The darkest hour is just before dawn, at least they say. And a glance at the data on the number of people dying in the UK certainly looks like a glimpse of the heart of the darkness of that country.
The data is almost extremely depressing.
Some highlights, or perhaps weaknesses: the total number of people who died in England and Wales during the 16th week of the year, that which started on Easter Monday was, at 22,351, the more people who died within a week from comparable records started.
Even once you adjust for population growth (we have a higher population, so you can expect higher numbers, all other things being equal), the weekly toll was the highest since the first week of 1970 .
The figures suggest that the COVID-19[female[feminine the number of deaths – the number we officially receive from the government every day – is a significant understatement.
Equally worrying, it appears that even though deaths in hospitals have started to slow, the nursing home sector is facing a major mortality crisis.
Although we know anecdotally that nursing homes have come under pressure in recent weeks, statistics are now beginning to confirm this.
And, again, they do not allow for pleasant reading.
The number of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes more than doubled between the 15th and 16th weeks of the year.
But the real concern is about the deaths that have not been officially registered as COVID-19.
To understand why, we need to look at not only the deaths officially attributed to the virus, but all deaths in nursing homes.
At this time of year, the average number of deaths in care homes is around 2,000. However, in the week before April 17, more than 7,000 people died in care homes.
It’s quite shocking but even more disturbing is the detail.
Subtract the average number of deaths each week from what we see this year and you get a horrific figure: almost 10,000 “excessive deaths” in nursing homes since mid-March.
But here’s the most striking thing: just over 3,000 of these deaths are officially described as deaths from COVID-19.
As for the remaining 6,600, we simply have no explanation.
It could be an undiagnosed COVID-19. These could be other causes of death exacerbated by foreclosure or changes in hospital policies. We just don’t know.
But we do know that a lot of people are dying in care right now, and the official COVID-19 death numbers tell a literal fraction of the story.
It’s a similar story for all deaths in the UK, although less marked: while COVID-19 accounts for only a third of excess deaths in care homes, it accounts for about three-quarters of the total excess death in the country.
In short, the coronavirus mortality crisis – directly or directly – is causing far more deaths than the figures suggest.
And while most other countries are now seeing their death trajectories drop – as the disease peaks – in England, that trajectory is still on the rise, according to EuroMomo figures.
Their statistical measure of excess mortality shows that England is now the only country in Europe facing “extremely high excessive deaths”.
I apologize that all of the above is endlessly depressing – which it is.
We are happy to report what is happening at the moment.
In all of my reporting years, there have been few that I would rather not report than these.
However, there is reassuring news buried in the dark.
The first is that the British Woodpecker may now be in sight.
It is possible, given the slow nature of these data, that we have already spent the worst week of mortality in the UK in this crisis.
And if that is the case, it represents a kind of success.
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Because, as I wrote above, the total number of deaths adjusted for the population did not exceed the level of the Hong Kong flu in 1968.
Why is it so important? Because by almost all epidemiological measures – the fatality rates in particular – COVID-19 is much worse than the flu from Hong Kong.
Without the lockdown (which they did not have in the late 1960s and early 1970s), according to epidemiologists, there would almost certainly have been hundreds of thousands of deaths in 2020 – not tens of thousands.
Horrible as these death statistics are, we can at least console ourselves that thanks to the sacrifices made by millions of people across the country during the foreclosure, they are at least less hideous than they would have been otherwise.