Coronavirus Update

By Paul Homewood

 

There seemed to be plenty of interest last time I did an analysis on COVID-19, and now seems an opportune time to update things, with the latest ONS data to June 19th.

All data is from ONS here. and refer to England & Wales only.

 

First, the number of actual weekly deaths this year, compared to the 5-Year average:

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Actual deaths began to increase above the average in Week 13, ie last week in March. Excess deaths peaked in Week 16 at 11854, and in Week 25 actually went negative.

 

During April, total excess deaths were running well above deaths recorded as “Deaths where COVID-19 was mentioned on the death certificate”.

However, since the start of May this situation has reversed, with 2943 more deaths recorded as COVID than excess deaths have been.

The greater number of excess deaths at the start led to claims that COVID deaths were being under recorded. However, there was plenty of evidence that patients with critical, and often terminal, conditions were dying prematurely as a result of COVID infection, but not because of it.

For instance, someone with lung cancer who only had a few months to live, may have died after contracting COVID, just as he may have done with flu or a bad cold. The cause, as far as the death certificate is concerned, would be cancer. It is unlikely such patients would be tested, so COVID was not recorded.

What we seem to be seeing now is that there is some catching up going on, and current deaths are lower than would normally be the case because those terminal patients died a few weeks ago, instead of now.

Since COVID deaths were shown separately, the total of excess deaths still exceeds COVID deaths by 10263. At the current rate, this differential will be eliminated by the end of the year.

 

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Finally a comparison of weekly deaths where the underlying cause was respiratory disease and the number where COVID was mentioned on the death certificate – remember that a death can be included in both categories.

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To date, the COVID total exceeds the respiratory figure by 30975. In the final Week 25, respiratory deaths were higher than COVID for the first time since March.

Of course many of the respiratory deaths are not connected to COVID anyway. Last year, for instance, during this same period between Weeks 12 and 25, there were 18438 deaths due to respiratory illness. The equivalent figure for this year is 18026.

This is a hugely significant number. It is generally accepted that the main way in which COVID causes death, directly at least, is through pneumonia. Yet the figures tell us that these deaths are no higher this year than last. And as we can see from the graph, deaths from respiratory disease this year have not peaked, but instead gradually fallen since early March.

So where does all of this leave us?

My take on this is that most of the excess deaths have been premature deaths, maybe only brought forward by a few weeks or months at the most. People with lung cancer, emphysema and so on.

Equally with the very old. Deaths of over 85s this year is running at 30,000 above last year. This alone counts for more than half of all excess deaths this year. How many of these actually had COVID? We don’t know, but we do know that a dose of flu or a bad cold is enough to kill the old and very frail.

But other factors are also at play with the elderly. How many have died, because visits from family have been stopped? Certainly anybody in a care home with dementia will have been badly affected. There is also the fact that any elderly who fell sick would have probably been kept away from hospital, and may well have died as a result.

As with terminal illnesses, and without wanting to sound cruel, many of the elderly in care homes would have died at some stage this year. As a result, we may well find that the excess death figure is much less than now by the end of the year.

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June 30, 2020 at 11:48AM

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