Covid now behind just one in 150 deaths, ONS figures show


Covid is now behind fewer than one in 150 deaths in England and Wales, official statistics revealed today, the lowest number since before the first lockdown last March. 

Office for National Statistics data showed 66 out of 9,860 death certificates listed the virus as the underlying cause over the week ending May 21 — 0.66 per cent of the total.

For comparison, flu and pneumonia were blamed for four times more fatalities after they were listed as the underlying cause on 287 certificates. The Covid death toll was also lower than in early September before the second wave spiralled out of control, when 69 deaths were blamed directly on the virus. 

Every region in England went at least one day without registering a single death from the virus over this period, data showed. The North East, East Midlands, West Midlands and South West had at least three days where they registered no Covid fatalities. 

The Department of Health yesterday reported zero new coronavirus deaths in the UK for the first time since July last year, triggering optimism in all corners that Britain is on the path back to normality.

Experts said today’s figures were ‘very positive’ and showed vaccines were playing ‘a major part’ in driving down fatalities. The NHS Confederation union added the numbers were ‘reassuring’ but said there was still a ‘real concern’ rising cases could lead to more hospitalisations.

Some SAGE scientists are urging Boris Johnson to push back plans to dump face masks and social distancing amid rising cases of the Indian variant, warning ‘mini Covid volcanoes’ could erupt in local hospitals. It takes around three weeks for someone who has caught the virus to become severely ill and sadly die from the disease.

But the Prime Minister said today there was still ‘nothing in the data at the moment that means we cannot go ahead with Step four’ of lifting restrictions. But he added England had to move ‘cautiously’ and scientists were saying more time was needed to see whether rising cases would lead to rising hospitalisations and deaths.

Oxford University professor and top Government adviser Sir John Bell today called on ministers not to ‘scamper down rabbit holes when there’s a new variant’. He said they should instead watch hospitalisation and deaths figures, which the jabbing drive aimed to prevent. 

Britain’s speedy vaccination drive — which has already jabbed almost three quarters of adults and offered at least one dose to everyone vulnerable to the virus — is thought to be driving the low death figures for the virus. 

Covid was mentioned on 107 death certificates in the week to May 21, but was only listed as the underlying cause on 66. There were 9,860 deaths overall in this period, meaning Covid was behind the equivalent of one in 150 fatalities

Covid was mentioned on 107 death certificates in the week to May 21, but was only listed as the underlying cause on 66. There were 9,860 deaths overall in this period, meaning Covid was behind the equivalent of one in 150 fatalities

For comparison, flu and pneumonia (blue line) were behind 287 fatalities. This was more than four times above the 66 deaths where Covid was listed as the underlying cause (red line)

For comparison, flu and pneumonia (blue line) were behind 287 fatalities. This was more than four times above the 66 deaths where Covid was listed as the underlying cause (red line)

Deaths from all causes were three per cent below average in the week to May 21, official figures revealed today

Deaths from all causes were three per cent below average in the week to May 21, official figures revealed today 

Statisticians at the national agency sort all death certificates registered in England and Wales to record those that mention Covid and whether it was the main cause of death or the person had it alongside another illness. 

The ONS figures lag behind the Department of Health’s daily total because it can take around two weeks to formally register a fatality, creating a delay due to the disease. 

Death certificates list underlying factors — the conditions thought to be responsible for the fatality — but also mention other conditions thought to have contributed to deaths but not to be the main factor behind the fatality.

Overall, Covid was mentioned on 107 death certificates in the latest weeks. This was a dip of 29 per cent on the previous week and accounted for 1.1 per cent of all fatalities registered. At the peak of the second wave, in the week ending January 29, Covid-19 accounted for 45.7 per cent of registered deaths.

Deaths from all causes were three per cent below the five-year average for the number expected at this time of year. Experts said this would happen because people with other illnesses that would have killed them around now had already died of Covid. 

And every region in England went at least one day without registering a single Covid fatality

And every region in England went at least one day without registering a single Covid fatality

There were 25 deaths in care homes in the week to May 21, figures showed. This was down compared to the previous week

There were 25 deaths in care homes in the week to May 21, figures showed. This was down compared to the previous week

The number of deaths involving Covid dropped 29 per cent this week compared to the previous. The drop is thanks to the successful vaccination drive which has got at least one dose to three quarters of adults

The number of deaths involving Covid dropped 29 per cent this week compared to the previous. The drop is thanks to the successful vaccination drive which has got at least one dose to three quarters of adults

Hospital was the main location where people who had Covid were dying in the latest week, figures revealed

Hospital was the main location where people who had Covid were dying in the latest week, figures revealed

The South East had the highest number of Covid deaths in the latest week (22), followed by the West Midlands (16), London (14) and the East of England (12).

The North West — which is experiencing an outbreak of the Indian variant — recorded eight deaths from the virus in this week, the sixth lowest out of England’s nine regions. But experts said it can take around three weeks for someone who has the virus to succumb to the disease, suggesting it is still too early to see whether the mutant strain is driving up deaths.

Top Government adviser urges Boris Johnson to push ahead with June 21 Freedom Day 

Britain cannot keep ‘scampering down a rabbit hole’ every time it uncovers a new Covid variant, one of the Government’s top scientific advisers said today.

Hitting back at members of SAGE calling for a longer lockdown, Sir John Bell said ministers must instead focus on hospitalisations and deaths, which have remained flat nationally.

The Oxford University medical expert, who has advised the Government on Covid tests and vaccines, suggested the country must take a leap of faith and put trust in its world-beating vaccination rollout.

Sir John becomes the highest profile adviser to call for ministers to stick with the roadmap and bring an end to social distancing laws on June 21’s ‘Freedom Day’.

His comments come as pressure mounts on Boris Johnson to push the date back to buy time to roll out jabs to millions more people to defend against the Indian variant.

New Covid cases have now been above 3,000 for seven consecutive days in the UK but the country yesterday reported zero new deaths for the first time since July 2020, bolstering calls for No10 to push ahead with plans to get back to normal.

But Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon has already delayed the unlocking north of the border, saying she was worried about how fast the virus is spreading, and lockdowns will continue for many regions there.

Sir told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think we do need to keep our eye on hospitalisations, serious disease and deaths, which is really what we are trying to manage.

‘If we scamper down a rabbit hole every time we see a new variant we are going to spend a long time huddled away — so I think we need to get a bit of balance into the discussion and keep our eyes on the serious disease we are trying to prevent.’

The smallest number of deaths from the virus was recorded in the South West, after four were recorded in the latest week data is available for.

Mr Johnson said on the steps outside Downing Street today there was ‘nothing in the data’ to suggest England’s June 21 Freedom Day would need to be delayed.

‘But we’ve got to be so cautious’, he added, because infection rates are increasing.

‘We always knew that was going to happen. 

‘What we need to work out is to what extent the vaccination programme has protected enough of us, particularly the elderly and vulnerable, against a new surge, and there I’m afraid the data is still ambiguous.

‘The best the scientists can say at the moment is we just need to give it a little bit longer.’

Whitehall sources say no decision on whether a delay is needed will be taken until June 14. 

Professor Kevin McConway, a statistician at the Open University, heralded the fall in Covid deaths as ‘very positive’.

‘On deaths involving Covid, the picture is very positive,’ he said.

‘When you think back only as far as the start of April when there were over 300 registered deaths in a week with Covid as the underlying cause, let alone to late January when there were over 7,500 a week, this is huge progress.

‘Vaccination will have played a major part in this reduction, though lockdowns and other interventions played an important part too. 

‘People who, sadly, died in the latest week of those data would probably have been infected three or more weeks before, so well before the latest loosening of lockdown in England on 17 May – so it wouldn’t be possible to see any effect of that removal of restrictions on these numbers.’

He added that rising Covid cases would not translate into the same pressure on the NHS as previously because of the vaccines. 

‘Earlier in the pandemic, any sustained increase in new cases or hospital admissions would lead inevitably to increases in deaths a few weeks later,’ he said.

‘That process won’t occur in the same way now, because of the effect of vaccination on reducing serious illness, though it’s not yet entirely clear what the new pattern might be, or how new variants might play a role. 

Dr Layla McCay, the director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said today’s figures were reassuring but that the ‘race is not yet won’.

‘Given predictions of a summer wave of infections, the Government must now use all available data to consider carefully whether 21 June is the right date for lifting all restrictions,’ she warned.

‘It is of real concern that cases are climbing quickly, and our members are increasingly worried that this will lead to more hospital admissions.’ 

Debate is still raging over whether the final stage of England’s unlocking can go ahead amid concerns over the spread of the Indian variant. 

Sir John intervened in the debate, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Britain can’t keep ‘scampering down rabbit holes’ every time there is a new variant.

The Oxford University medical expert, who has advised the Government on Covid tests and vaccines, suggested the country must take a leap of faith and put trust in its world-beating vaccination rollout.

Sir John becomes the highest profile adviser to call for ministers to stick with the roadmap and bring an end to social distancing laws on June 21’s Freedom Day.

‘I think we do need to keep our eye on hospitalisations, serious disease and deaths, which is really what we are trying to manage,’ he said.

‘If we scamper down a rabbit hole every time we see a new variant we are going to spend a long time huddled away — so I think we need to get a bit of balance into the discussion and keep our eyes on the serious disease we are trying to prevent.’

The Oxford expert also urged ministers to back rolling out the vaccine in other nations, to get outbreaks under control and reduce the risk of vaccine-busting variants emerging. 

The UK today reported zero Covid deaths for the first time since July 30 last year

The UK today reported zero Covid deaths for the first time since July 30 last year

Sir John took to the airwaves to warn that Britain cannot run scared from Covid variants if it is to get out of lockdown.

Asked about the zero Covid deaths recorded yesterday, he said this ‘looks pretty good’.

‘Now there’s always of course a lag in terms of deaths because people get Covid and they don’t die immediately so we have to be a bit careful about that,’ he warned.

‘But as far as I can see the numbers don’t look too intimidating to me and I think we need to let them play out another couple of weeks.’

He added: ‘I think the Government’s taken the wise approach to this before we make a decision on the next reduction of the lockdown but I am pretty encouraged by what I see.’

The intervention comes as Sir John and 11 other scientists publish a letter ahead of the G7 summit in Cornwall this month calling on ministers to support the vaccine roll out in other countries.

The open letter warns without this action Britain risks importing dangerous variants from abroad as the virus remains out of control in other areas.

‘Leaders from the G7 countries must take decisive action now if we are to bring this pandemic under control,’ the scientists which also include Wellcome Trust director Sir Jeremy Farrar and the director of the Oxford vaccine group Professor Sue Clemens write.

 ‘Without a globally coordinated approach… we are merely putting out fires in one part of the world as another suffers.

 ‘The result is a pandemic that continues on – with millions more lives lost and a real threat that any progress made to date is completely undone by a new variant that renders vaccines ineffective.’



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