'No sign of second wave' as ONS data shows normal level of deaths for time of year

Sarah Knapton
·4-min read
A sign in Manchester urges people to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 - Martin Rickett/PA
A sign in Manchester urges people to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 - Martin Rickett/PA
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Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..

There is no sign of a second coronavirus wave, experts have said as new Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures showed that deaths are just 1.5 per cent above the five-year average and tracking on a normal trajectory for the time of year.

Although Covid deaths rose to 438 for the week ending October 9 – an increase of 36 per cent from the previous week, when the figure stood at 321 – overall deaths rose just 143 above the five-year average. There were also 19 fewer overall deaths than in the same week last year.

Experts at Oxford University said the number would have to get to 1,200 deaths above the norm before it would usually be considered "excess" above the expected variation in the data.

Researchers also found there would usually be around 1,600 weekly deaths from flu and pneumonia for the same week. Deaths from coronavirus, flu and pneumonia are currently running at 1,621, suggesting there is virtually no increase in expected respiratory deaths.

The ONS figures also do not factor in the UK's growing and ageing population, which would be expected to increase the number of deaths over time and which are likely to cancel out at least some of the increase.

For example, between 2010 and 2019 the number of deaths for the week ending October 9 rose from 9,281 to 9,973 – about 70 extra deaths a year.

Coronavirus UK Spotlight Chart - DEATHS default
Coronavirus UK Spotlight Chart - DEATHS default

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Professor Carl Heneghan, the director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine (CEBM) at Oxford University, said: "There is no sign of a second wave up to October 9. In week 41, the number of deaths registered was 1.5 per cent above the five-year average.

"We consider the current data normal variation, and only consider it an excess when it gets to two standard deviations, which is about 1,200 excess deaths compared to the five-year average."

Dr Jason Oke, also of the CEBM, has looked at total deaths since 2010 and said that although deaths were tracking at the top of what would usually be expected, they remained within normal bounds. The figures suggest that people who would normally be expected to die of flu or pneumonia are instead dying from coronavirus.

"Total deaths are tracking at the top but not over," said Dr Oke. "Is it because we have nearly an identical deficit of flu and pneumonia deaths for this time of year?

"Covid-19 plus influenza/pneumonia deaths are at 1,621 this week, while five-year average flu and pneumonia for this week is 1,600."

The ONS figures show that, since the week ending September 4, registered coronavirus deaths in England and Wales have been roughly doubling every fortnight.

However, the country is now entering the winter flu season, and an increase in respiratory deaths is expected. Public Health England (PHE) surveillance of respiratory diseases shows there is virtually no flu in the community at the moment.

For the week ending October 31, out of the 76,398 respiratory specimens reported through the Respiratory DataMart System, none tested positive for influenza. In contrast, 3,068 samples were positive for coronavirus, with an overall positivity of four per cent.

Tuesday's figures show that just over 59,000 deaths involving coronavirus have now been registered in the UK, although the figure of deaths "due" to coronavirus is significantly lower.

Some 53,863 deaths involving coronavirus have occurred in England and Wales up to October 9, and were registered by October 17.

So far this year, 34,174 deaths involving coronavirus have occurred in hospitals, 15,712 in care homes, 2,561 in private homes, 761 in hospices, 227 in other communal establishments and 205 elsewhere.

Figures published last week by the National Records of Scotland showed that 4,301 deaths involving coronavirus had been registered in Scotland up to October 11. In Northern Ireland, 915 deaths had occurred up to October 9 and had been registered up to October 14, according to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.

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