Britain today announced just 66 more coronavirus deaths — meaning the daily average number of fatalities has now dropped to the lowest level since March.
Department of Health figures show 72 Britons are now succumbing to the life-threatening infection each day but two top experts claimed the government’s official count of new victims is still too high. For comparison, the rate was 61 on March 24 — the day after lockdown — and has dropped 16 per cent in a week. More than 1,000 deaths were recorded each day during the darkest days of the crisis in April.
Scotland today recorded one death, ending its seven-day spell without any victims. Nicola Sturgeon today said every death is ‘one too many’ but admitted the figures were a ‘sign of the progress we have made’.
Britain’s official laboratory-confirmed Covid-19 death toll topped the grim milestone of 45,000 yesterday, as the first wave of the outbreak continues to fizzle out. But separate government data suggests it may not be shrinking any more because the average number of new infections has barely changed in the past fortnight.
Health bosses recorded 642 more coronavirus cases today, taking the rolling average to 584 — the same as it was yesterday and 5 per cent higher than the 546 recorded last Thursday.
Other figures released today from a symptom-tracking app suggested Britain’s coronavirus outbreak is growing again, raising fears the relaxation of strict lockdown rules last weekend may have triggered a surge as millions of Britons flocked to pubs to enjoy their first freedom in four months.
It comes as two top Oxford University statisticians today claimed the government is inflating the actual daily death toll and said fewer than 40 people are actually succumbing to the illness every day. Dr Jason Oke and Professor Carl Heneghan claimed government figures were misleading because officials lump historical deaths onto random days — and include fatalities that happened weeks or even months ago.
In other coronavirus developments in Britain today:
- The UK, US and Canada accused Russia of trying to steal coronavirus vaccine research by sanctioning ‘despicable’ cyber attacks against medical organisations and universities;
- NHS Test and Trace is still failing to find a more than a fifth of patients who test positive for Covid-19 — despite launching almost two months ago;
- The number of people employed has plunged by 650,000 since UK’s coronavirus chaos erupted as shock data revealed 2.6million are now on benefits;
- Figures revealed the stark divide between the fortunes of the public and private sectors, with public sector pay surging during the crisis but incomes plunging for private workers;
- Pharmacists will be able to give out Covid-19 jabs to speed up a nation-wide roll out when one is eventually approved, Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed.
Data shows that the trend of deaths charted by when they actually happened (dotted blue line), not when the paperwork was finished, is significantly lower than the number of deaths being announced by the Department of Health (red line)
Dr Jason Oke and Professor Carl Heneghan, from the University of Oxford, said death figures published by Public Health England contained ‘inaccuracies’ and could cause confusion.
Department of Health figures released yesterday showed 130,000 tests were carried out or posted the day before. The number includes antibody tests for frontline NHS and care workers.
But bosses again refused to say how many people were tested, meaning the exact number of Brits who have been swabbed for the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been a mystery for a month — since May 22.
Health chiefs also reported 642 more cases of Covid-19 today. Government statistics show the official size of the UK’s outbreak now stands at 292,552 cases.
But the actual size of the outbreak, which began to spiral out of control in March, is estimated to be in the millions, based on antibody testing data.
It means the rolling average of daily cases dropped to 584 — 5 per cent higher than the 556 average cases figure recorded last Thursday.
The daily death data does not represent how many Covid-19 patients died within the last 24 hours — it is only how many fatalities have been reported and registered with the authorities.
The data does not always match updates provided by the home nations. Department of Health officials — who say the overall lab-confirmed death toll now stands at 45,119 — work off a different time cut-off, meaning daily updates from Scotland as well as Northern Ireland are always out of sync.
And the count announced by NHS England every afternoon — which only takes into account deaths in hospitals — does not match up with the DH figures because they work off a different recording system.
For instance, some deaths announced by NHS England bosses will have already been counted by the Department of Health, which records fatalities ‘as soon as they are available’.
More than 1,000 infected Brits died each day during the darkest days of the crisis in mid-April but the number of victims had been dropping by around 20 to 30 per cent week-on-week since the start of May.
NHS England today posted 19 deaths in hospitals across the country. One fatality was recorded in all settings in Scotland, ending its seven-day spell without any victims. None were registered in Wales or Northern Ireland.
It comes as Dr Oke and Professor Heneghan claimed deaths are still falling — even if at a slower rate than they were earlier in the crisis.
The Government has pointed out in the past that it counts deaths on the date that the paperwork is completed, not when the person actually died, which can make day-by-day figures inaccurate.
The Oxford pair said Number 10 should make it clearer when people actually died so that when there are one-day spikes — the 138 deaths announced on Tuesday, for example — it doesn’t look like the outbreak is getting worse.
Writing in a blog Dr Oke and Professor Heneghan said: ‘What has become apparent in recent weeks is the growing disparity between the numbers released by ONS [Office for National Statistics] and those reported by Public Health England which are widely disseminated in the media.’
They said PHE’s figures ‘vary substantially from day to day’ and explained: ‘This variation is most likely due to the appearance of “historic” deaths that have occurred weeks before, but for some reason unknown to us, get reported in batches on particular days.
‘To counter this variation, a moving average smooths the trend, but even this is at odds with the ONS data…
‘We can surmise that the total number of deaths in all settings is approximately 40 per day, much closer to the ONS numbers.’
ONS data shows that significantly more people have died than the Department of Health has counted. This is thought to be largely because it only counted people who tested positive but wouldn’t let care home residents have tests during the peak of the outbreak
To explain their calculations Dr Oke and Professor Heneghan, from the university’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, compared death tolls recorded by Public Health England (PHE) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
PHE counts only deaths in people who tested positive for Covid-19, which means it is thought to have missed out thousands of people at the start of the epidemic.
The ONS, meanwhile, counts anyone who has the disease mentioned on their death certificate, whether they were tested or not.
Dr Oke and Professor Heneghan said even PHE’s moving average, which is intended to smooth out dips and spikes around the weekends, is too high.
It was 103 for June 30, they pointed out, but the ONS counted 101 deaths (by actual date of death) on June 30 and July 1 combined — making the two-day average 51.
They said: ‘The PHE figures average has been consistently higher than ONS for some time.’
The pair also pointed out the death counts from NHS England, which are accurate around three days after the date in question, are too low to match PHE.
According to the ONS, hospital fatalities now make up around 60 per cent of all deaths that happen on any given day.
On June 30, NHS England recorded 27 fatalities. If this was 60 per cent of all deaths that happened on that day the total number would be 45.
But the Department of Health, using PHE’s data, announced 115 more deaths on that day.
Professor Heneghan and Dr Oke acknowledged that the official death counts are constantly backdating deaths so do not reflect the day they’re announced, but suggest that historic fatalities are being spread out.
‘Because of the inaccuracies in PHE data we recommend using ONS data and the NHS England data to understand the trends in deaths over time,’ they wrote.
‘To reduce confusion we require all deaths reported by PHE to include when they occurred as opposed to the day of reporting.’
MailOnline has contacted the Department of Health for comment.
It comes as data today suggested Britain’s coronavirus outbreak may be growing following a spike in the number of people with symptoms over the past week.
King’s College London’s COVID Symptom Tracker app estimates 2,100 people are catching the virus in the community every day — up from 1,400 last week.
The increase is too small to say definitively that the outbreak is growing once again because other, more official estimates put the daily new cases between 1,700 and 3,300 with downward trends.
But the scientists confirmed the epidemic had ‘definitely levelled off’ and claimed cases are only dropping in the Midlands, which contains Leicester – the city still in the UK’s first local lockdown.
KCL experts, working with health tech company ZOE, collected data on symptoms and test results from four million UK citizens between June 28 and July 11. It is one of several surveillance projects tracking the spread of the disease in Britain.
The vast majority of the new cases — 1,843 — are appearing in England, along with 185 per day in Wales and 75 in Scotland. No estimates were made for Northern Ireland.
Data shows the virus is spreading most widely in the North East of England and Yorkshire, which is still experiencing 401 daily cases.
The second worst-hit region is the Midlands, where there are still 363 new daily cases, many of which would have been in Leicester, which has had to roll back its easing of lockdown because of rising infections.
In the North West, 321 people are catching the virus every day. Some extra restrictions came into force in the Lancashire authorities of Blackburn with Darwen and Pendle yesterday because cases are creeping up again.
Professor Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at KCL and lead researcher behind the app, said it was clear ‘the virus is not going away any time soon’ and that his team were monitoring he situation closely.
The data adds to concerns that pubs reopening and lockdown rules loosening on ‘Super Saturday’ earlier this month could cause a spike in infections.