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Deaths From The Coronavirus In The UK Are Higher Than Previously Recorded, New Statistics Suggest

The ONS statistics, which included deaths at home and in care homes, show 40 more deaths than previous figures released by the Department of Health.

David Cliff / NurPhoto/PA Images

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published new statistics that show the number of deaths related to the coronavirus in the UK is likely to be higher than official figures released by the government have previously shown.

The ONS statistics, which include deaths at home and in care homes, show 40 more deaths than previous figures released by the Department of Health.

The ONS stats include deaths registered on or before March 25, and show 210 people had died with coronavirus between the start of the year and March 20 in England and Wales.

NHS England and Public Health Wales had previously published data recording 170 deaths in the same period. As the ONS stats only include deaths up to March 20, it is unclear where the actual figure stands — on Monday the government said that 1,408 had so far died from COVID-19, but this is likely to be higher.

Previous figures released by the Department of Health only include deaths that have occurred in hospitals but include deaths that have not yet been registered. ONS weekly deaths figures are based on deaths registered in the stated week and include all deaths where COVID-19 was mentioned on the death certificate as “deaths involving COVID-19”.

Of the 10,645 deaths registered in the week ending 20 March, 103 mentioned #COVID-19 on the death certificate https://t.co/Uon5ZuyoWe

Department of Health statistics released later on Tuesday showed the biggest rise in deaths to date — they showed that 393 people aged between 19 and 98 years old had died, an increase of 180 on the previous day. It brings the UK death toll to more than 1,800.

The ONS has said there is normally a delay of at least five days between a death and it being registered.

According to the ONS stats, deaths involving coronavirus accounted for 1% of all registered deaths in the UK in the week to March 20.

The ONS stats are consistent with the previous government statistics in showing the highest numbers of deaths in London and the South East, followed by the West Midlands and the North West.

Of the 103 coronavirus-related deaths recorded with the ONS in the week to March 20, 45 were aged over 85, 31 were aged between 75 and 84, 20 were aged between 65 and 74, six were between 45 and 64 years old, and just one was 44 years old or less.

Explaining the discrepancy between the statistics, Sarah Caul, head of Mortality Analysis at ONS, wrote in a blog post: "The issue is not really about right or wrong, but about each source of data having its own strengths and weaknesses.

"The figures published on GOV.UK are valuable because they are available very quickly, and give an indication of what is happening day by day. Their definition is also clear, so the limitations of the data can be understood. But they won’t necessarily include all deaths involving COVID-19, such as those not in a hospital.

"Numbers produced by ONS are much slower to prepare, because they have to be certified by a doctor, registered and processed. But once ready, they are the most accurate and complete information.

"Using the complete death certificate allows us to analyse a lot of information, such as what other health conditions contributed to the death. We will start publishing more detailed breakdowns of the figures as soon as possible."


Hannah Al-Othman is a political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Hannah Al-Othman at hannah.al-othman@buzzfeed.com.

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