LONDON (Reuters) – The United Kingdom’s death toll from the novel coronavirus could run 15% higher than official figures have indicated so far, according to broader data that include deaths in the community such as in nursing homes.
Even before the new figures, the official British death toll was the fifth-highest globally and a senior scientific adviser to the government has said the country risks becoming the worst-hit in Europe.
The Office for National Statistics said on Tuesday that 5,979 people in England had died by April 3 with COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, mentioned in their death certificates.
“This is 15% higher than the NHS numbers as they include all mentions of COVID-19 on the death certificate, including suspected COVID-19, as well as deaths in the community,” ONS statistician Nick Stripe said.
The numbers, which reflect both deaths caused by primarily by COVID-19 and where it was mentioned as a factor, show just how limited British official data has been so far. Daily figures published by the health ministry record only COVID-19 deaths recorded in hospitals.
Previous data from the National Health Service (NHS) that only covered deaths in English hospitals showed 5,186 people had died during the period to April 3.
Including Wales, some 6,235 people had died by April 3, the ONS said. Separate data from Scotland last week showed 354 deaths involved COVID-19 as of April 5. In Northern Ireland, the toll stood at 79 as of April 3.
London was hit particularly hard in the week to April 3: nearly half (46.6%) of deaths in the capital involved COVID-19, the ONS said.
Across England and Wales, deaths mentioning COVID-19 accounted for 21.2% of all deaths, compared with 4.8% in the previous week.
The broader reading of total deaths, showed that 16,387 people died in the week ending April 3 – the highest weekly total since weekly death data started to be compiled in 2005.
The latest daily COVID-19 death toll for the United Kingdom showed a total of 11,329 people had died in hospitals as of Sunday at 1600 GMT across after testing positive for coronavirus.
British government scientists have said the United Kingdom will do well if it manages to keep the coronavirus death toll below 20,000.
Reporting by Andy Bruce and William Schomberg, editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Angus MacSwan