Even before the new figures, the official British death toll was the fifth highest in the world, and a senior government science adviser said the country was likely to become the most affected in Europe.
The Office for National Statistics said 5,979 people in England died on April 3 with COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, mentioned on their death certificates – 15% more than the figures released by the service. health.
“I’m not surprised from a distance that there would be an undercoverage,” Bill Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology at T.H. at Harvard. Chan School of Public Health, told Reuters.
“The death toll in British hospitals that you see – the one that makes the news every night – is a mixture of things that have infiltrated for some time. It is not an exact number and does not include the numbers that die in places like nursing homes. “
The new figures, which reflect the two deaths caused mainly by COVID-19 and where it has been mentioned as a factor, show how limited official British data have been so far.
Daily figures released by the Ministry of Health report only deaths from COVID-19 in hospitals.
Compared to ONS figures, these daily figures underestimated the actual death toll in England and Wales by 52% as of April 3, although it had dropped from 70% a week earlier.
However, this increases the likelihood that the latest death toll for the UK as a whole – 12,107 to April 13 – is actually thousands higher when deaths outside hospitals are included.
“These new figures … clearly show the impact of COVID-19 for the first time,” said Martin Hibberd, professor of emerging infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
London was particularly hard hit in the week before April 3, when the NSO said that almost half (46.6%) of the deaths in the capital involved COVID-19.
An ambulance arrives at the NHS Nightingale Hospital in the Excel Center in London as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, London, Great Britain, April 14, 2020. REUTERS / John Sibley
UK COVID RESPONSE
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is now recovering from almost life-threatening complications from COVID-19, initially refrained from imposing the same stringent controls as other European leaders to counter the epidemic.
But as projections showed that 250,000 Britons could be lost to the virus, Johnson decided to close the fifth largest economy in the world and told people to stay home.
“The UK response was fractured and it was too late, and allowed a large number of people to be infected who did not need to be infected,” Hanage told Harvard.
“This is the start of the pandemic, not the end, and people have to understand this.”
Hanage suggested focusing on testing, using new digital technologies to provide targeted advice to the public, or even detecting the virus in wastewater.
Government scientists have said the UK would do well if it keeps the coronavirus death toll below 20,000. Italy has reported more than 20,000 deaths.
Including Wales, some 6,235 people died on April 3, the ONS said. Separate data from Scotland last week showed that 354 deaths were linked to COVID-19 as of April 5. In Northern Ireland, the balance sheet was 79 to 3 April.
In England and Wales, deaths mentioning COVID-19 accounted for 21.2% of all deaths, compared with 4.8% the week before.
A broader reading of the total number of deaths showed that 16,387 people died in the week ending April 3 – the highest total since weekly death data began to be compiled in 2005.
Report by Andy Bruce and William Schomberg; Additional reporting by Stephen Gray; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Angus MacSwan and Catherine Evans
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