There have been 30,000 fewer deaths from non-Covid causes since September, estimates suggest, as ONS data revealed today fatalities have dropped below expected levels in two regions of England.
The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries said Britain’s non-Covid fatalities crossed the ‘milestone’ of being below average in the final week of February, after plummeting during the second wave.
It found that there were 50,000 ‘excess deaths’ during the second wave of coronavirus but 80,000 Covid deaths during the same time, suggesting there were 30,000 fewer from other causes.
This may be because some deaths have been wrongly linked to coronavirus, pushing people from one side to the other, or because Covid sped up deaths earlier in the pandemic and killed off vulnerable people meaning the other-cause death rate is lower now.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) data today showed there were 1,230 deaths from all causes in the South West over the week to February 26 — 2.8 per cent fewer than expected for the time of year. The North East saw a 3.2 per cent drop, with 614 fatalities.
Data also showed deaths from all causes in care homes have dropped below average, with the number of Covid victims having fallen by a third in a week.
ONS data also showed 2,914 deaths linked to Covid were recorded in England and Wales — fewer than one in four of all fatalities and 65 per cent below the weekly figure for the darkest part of the second wave in January.
PROFESSOR CHRIS WHITTY WARNS A THIRD WAVE OF COVID IS INEVITABLE THIS YEAR
Chris Whitty today warned a deadly third wave of coronavirus is inevitable later this year as he defended England’s ultra-cautious roadmap out of lockdown.
The chief medical officer said ‘all the modelling’ suggests cases will spike at some point after restrictions are eased, despite uptake of the vaccines being high.
He claimed it was ‘perfectly realistic’ that tens of thousands more Brits could be killed by the virus, pointing out that flu claims up to 20,000 lives during a bad year.
Batting away calls for lockdown to be loosened sooner now the epidemic has been squashed to pre-second wave levels, he warned: ‘If you open up too fast, a lot more people die – a lot more people die.’
Professor Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, England’s chief scientific adviser, are being quizzed by MPs on the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee this morning.
Number 10 has promised to follow the data, not dates, but has set strict five-week intervals between each phase of the plan.
Experts estimate the expected death toll from all causes by analysing the numbers recorded in the same seven-day periods over the past five years. Anything above average would be considered ‘excess deaths’.
But scientists say levels being below normal does not mean Covid has been wiped out, and may simply be down to the pandemic triggering more deaths earlier so that they appear lower now.
ONS death figures lag behind the Department of Health daily tallies, which began falling at the end of January. Statisticians analyse death certificates to identify exactly how many Covid was to blame for. There is a delay of about three weeks between someone getting infected with the virus and succumbing to the disease, meaning it takes time for a dip in cases to show up in death figures.
The ONS data showed the number of deaths from all causes in England and Wales was 12,614, nine per cent above the five-year average expected of 11,548.
In care homes there were 2,693 fatalities, which was 14 per cent below the five-year average (473 fewer deaths than expected). There were also 636 deaths linked to the virus, 34 per cent below the 969 recorded the week before.
Professor Kevin McConway, a statistician at the Open University, said it was a ‘good sign’ that deaths had fallen below the five-year average in two regions of England.
He added: ‘The number of deaths that don’t involve Covid remains considerably below the five-year average – about 1,800 below, in the most recent week. That’s to be expected.
‘Lockdowns decrease the transmission of other respiratory diseases such as flu, and not just Covid, and can sometimes reduce deaths from other causes too, such as road deaths if people aren’t travelling so much.
‘Also, sadly, some of the people who might otherwise have died in the latest week would have been taken earlier by Covid, maybe during last year.
‘Deaths not involving Covid are likely to remain somewhat below their average level for some time, so it’s quite possible that in maybe two or three weeks we might see deaths from all causes (including Covid-19) going below the five-year average.’
He told MailOnline that it was impossible to say deaths had fallen below the five-year average because of drops in Covid fatalities, as it could also be linked to the impact of lockdowns.
The West Midlands was the worst-hit region in England in the week to February 26, after recording 231 more deaths than expected at this time of year (19 per cent above average). It suffered 1,401 fatalities compared to the 1,170 predicted.
It was followed by London, where there were 184 more deaths than expected (17.1 per cent above average), and the East Midlands, where there were 130 more than expected (13.5 per cent above average).
In Wales there were 35 more deaths than expected at this time of year, after they recorded 759 fatalities compared to the 724 predicted.
All regions of England recorded fewer fatalities linked to the virus than they did during the previous week for the fourth week in a row.
The most Covid deaths occurred in hospitals (2,080), followed by care homes (510), private homes (238) and hospices (65).
Cambridge University statistician Professor David Spiegelhalter predicted last week deaths from all causes would fall below average by the end of March in England and Wales.
‘I think almost certainly by the end of this month our actual overall death rate (fatalities from all causes including the virus) will be less than the average of the last five years,’ he said.
‘The big difference this year is that there’s no flu. Normally up to 25,000 people might die of flu in the winter, but it’s just not happening this year.
‘What we’ve actually seen is record levels of a lack of flu, and this was in a sense entirely predictable. It’s what happened in the Southern hemisphere countries over their winter, our summer, and is a direct effect of the measures we’re taking against Covid.
‘But there is another cause, which is that we did have 60,000 excess deaths back in the spring, in many old and vulnerable people and many of those would have survived until now.
‘And so the lack of deaths we’re seeing, some of them are because they’ve already died early.’
Nearly 30,000 NHS staff have registered for anxiety and insomnia therapy since the start of the pandemic
Nearly 30,000 NHS workers have registered for anxiety or insomnia therapy since the start of the pandemic, data revealed today.
NHS staff across the country have been been left seeking treatment due to the toll on their mental health caused by an increased workload due to Covid.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy programmes used to treat anxiety and insomnia, such as Sleepio and Daylight, saw a 300 per cent increase in registrations following the first week of last March’s lockdown.
They also saw a spike in January, when England went into a third national lockdown.
Siobhan, an NHS nurse advisor from Dorset, said the increased stress she been under during the pandemic has caused her to miss more sleep than she ever has before.
She said: ‘I’ve been a longstanding sufferer of poor sleep for almost 10 years, nothing I tried had ever worked for me.
‘Then with the added stress of a pandemic I found my completely sleepless nights were at an all-time high and it was beginning to affect me far more than it had done previously in my life.
‘Each day felt like a struggle and my mood was also low.’
She added: ‘I needed a tool at my disposal which let me tackle the problem rather than masking it, Sleepio does just that.’
Steve Lee, head of Health and Wellbeing at NHS England and NHS Improvement said: ‘Throughout the pandemic we have provided our NHS people with a comprehensive support package that best meets their diverse needs, including resources such as access to a range of mental health apps.’