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Covid-19: Death toll higher than reported in hospitals

Office for National Statistics data provides a wider picture of what is happening in the community.

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Soldiers and private contractors help to prepare the ExCel centre (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Soldiers and private contractors help to prepare the ExCel centre (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Soldiers and private contractors help to prepare the ExCel centre (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The true toll of deaths across the country from Covid-19 is higher than reports from hospitals suggest, according to new figures.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for England and Wales shows there were 24% more deaths relating to Covid-19 up to and including March 20, compared to hospital-only data for the same period.

The ONS looked at all deaths where Covid-19 was mentioned as a factor, including hospital deaths and those in the community and care homes.

A total of 210 deaths in England and Wales for the time period had Covid-19 mentioned on the death certificate, compared with 170 coronavirus-related deaths reported by NHS England and Public Health Wales.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

The ONS looked at deaths that occurred up to March 20 but which were registered up to March 25.

Hospital figures are of people who have tested positive for Covid-19, whereas the ONS includes all deaths where Covid-19 is mentioned on the death certificate, even if only suspected.

However, the ONS data does provide a much wider picture of what may be happening in the community.

Separate new figures from ONS show that for the 108 deaths registered up to March 20 where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, 45 (or 42%) were people aged 85 and over while 34 (31%) were people aged 75 to 84.

A total of 21 deaths (19%) were people aged 65 to 74, seven (6%) were people aged 45 to 64 and one death was among somebody aged 15 to 44.

As of 5pm on Sunday, 1,408 people are confirmed to have died in UK hospitals after testing positive for Covid-19.

It comes as Boris Johnson chaired a meeting of his Cabinet by videolink on Tuesday, as he continues to self-isolate in Downing Street after testing positive for coronavirus.

The Prime Minister has faced heavy criticism over shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline NHS staff as well as the slow rollout of testing.

All Cabinet ministers dialled into the meeting, with only civil service chief Sir Mark Sedwill and a small number of officials in the Cabinet room in Downing Street, following the rules and keeping two metres apart.

The Prime Minister told the meeting “the rising death toll in recent days showed the vital importance of the public continuing to stick to the social distancing guidance which has been put in place by the Government, based on scientific and medical advice”.

He added: “The situation is going to get worse before it gets better – but it will get better.”

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has voiced further concerns about the lack of testing in the UK after it emerged the Government had still not hit its target of 10,000 tests a day.

This is despite earlier claims by Mr Hancock that the target had been reached.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged countries to “test, test, test” as a key part of its strategy to beat the virus.

But officials have admitted the UK does not have the same capacity as other countries that are testing more, including Germany which is conducting around 70,000 per day.

Mr Hunt told the Guardian: “The big advantage we now have is evidence that testing works in other countries.

Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for health workers
(PA Graphics)

“We can see that Asian countries have been spectacularly more successful than European ones in avoiding mass lockdown.”

Meanwhile, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps addressed concerns over whether police were being heavy-handed in dealing with enforcement measures.

He told BBC Breakfast: “There will be one or two instances where they have perhaps not approached it in the right way but in general, actually, across the country not only are people complying very well but, generally speaking, the police are taking a very sensible approach to it.”

Asked why the National Police Chiefs’ Council had thought it necessary to call for consistent guidelines to be followed, Mr Shapps said there had been issues that the police were trying to iron out.

“I think there are, if I may describe them as such, teething problems or the police trying to work out which is the most effective and best approach,” he added.

Police speak to drivers at Tynemouth beach
Police speak to drivers at Tynemouth beach (Owen Humphreys/PA)

“I will leave that to the police.”

Mr Shapps also urged people just to go to the shops once a week and said people’s once-daily exercise should take place “as near home as possible”.

It comes as the British Medical Association said healthcare workers need clarity from ministers about what risks they should not have to take if they do not have adequate PPE.

On Monday, Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, revealed there had been almost a 50% rise in a few days in the number of people being treated for coronavirus in England’s hospitals.

Stewards organise traffic at a Covid-19 test centre for NHS workers which has opened at Ikea's store in Wembley
Stewards organise traffic at a Covid-19 test centre for NHS workers which has opened at Ikea’s store in Wembley (Jonathan Brady/PA)

He said on Friday that more than 6,200 patients were in hospital with Covid-19, but on Monday this figure had jumped to more than 9,000.

England’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said the NHS was seeing around an additional 1,000 patients a day and described this daily rise as “stable”.

Sir Patrick also said social distancing measures were “making a difference”.

Meanwhile, a Covid-19 test centre for NHS workers has opened at Ikea’s store in Wembley, north-west London.

PA