Coronavirus is likely to have brought forward some deaths of older and vulnerable people which could prompt a period of below-average deaths, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has said.
More than 55,000 deaths involving Covid-19 have been recorded in the UK during the outbreak, with the virus the main reason for deaths increasing above what would normally be expected for this period.
The elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions have been hardest hit by the pandemic.
The ONS said: “The disease has had a larger impact on those most vulnerable (for example, those who already suffer from a medical condition) and those at older ages.
“Some of these deaths would have likely occurred over the duration of the year but have occurred earlier because of the coronavirus.
“These deaths occurring earlier than expected could mean we start to see a period of deaths below the five-year average.”
Jane Murray, adult bereavement services co-ordinator at end of life charity Marie Curie, said many relatives feel that a loved one with a terminal illness died prematurely during the virus’s peak.
She said: “The impact of a death like this on grieving families has been immeasurable – families are feeling levels of sadness and anger at a very different depth than is typical.
“I am seeing loved ones increasingly frustrated with Covid-19 being listed on the death certificate, as well as families simply unable to believe or process that their relative has died.”
Tuesday’s ONS figures show there were 8,979 deaths from all causes in England and Wales registered in the week ending June 26 – 314 deaths fewer than the five year average.
It is the second week in a row that weekly deaths have been below the average for this time of year.
Before the week ending June 19, the last time deaths were below average was before the lockdown in the week ending March 13.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said the deaths of older people during the pandemic have been “catastrophic”.
She said: “These most vulnerable people have been at the biggest risk to the virus and should have been better protected on all levels.
“It would be good to think that the number of deaths will fall over the coming months but we must remain cautious and make sure that our most vulnerable are protected in case there is a resurgence of the virus late in the year.
“To do this the Government needs to refinance and reform social care so that older people at home and in care homes are safe and adequately cared for. ”
The figures show that registered deaths involving coronavirus had dropped in all but one region in England and Wales in the week ending June 26.
In the North East there were two more deaths registered compared with the previous week.
All regions except the North West, East Midlands and North East saw overall registered deaths below that which would usually be expected for this time of year.
For the sixth week running, the number of deaths involving Covid-19 was highest in the North West.
The East Midlands had the highest proportion of deaths involving Covid-19 – 11.1% of all deaths.
Overall in England and Wales, there were 606 deaths involving Covid-19 in the week up to June 26 – the lowest number since the week ending March 27.
There have been 50,219 deaths involving Covid-19 in England and Wales up to June 26 (and registered by July 4), with 31,761 in hospitals, 14,852 in care homes, 2,288 in private homes, 691 in hospices, 223 in other communal establishments and 185 elsewhere.
Deaths from all causes in all settings were below the five-year average for the week ending June 26, except for in private homes, where 745 deaths were registered.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock tweeted in response to the figures: “We protected the NHS & are getting #coronavirus cornered.
“Every death is a tragedy – yet today’s figures are encouraging.”