COVID-19: Deaths above average in almost every area of Great Britain

More than 100,000 people have now died within 28 days of testing positive for COVID-19. But this official government total is just one measure of lives lost.

Another – deaths where COVID-19 was mentioned on the death certificate – now totals 107,907 in the UK.

But, to capture the impact of the pandemic we need to look at “excess deaths” – the number, from all causes, above the five-year average.

Around 98,835 more people than expected have died, with or without coronavirus, since mid-March. This is 19.6% above normal.

The map below looks at the pattern across Great Britain.

Almost every local area in Great Britain has recorded more deaths than the five-year average since the start of the pandemic in mid-March.

Areas below and above the national average of excess deaths (19.6%)

London has been one of the worst affected regions. 15 of its boroughs are among the top 20 areas with highest excess deaths.

Newham, which is densely populated, recorded the highest excess deaths in Great Britain – 54% above average.

Almost two-thirds of people in Newham are from an ethnic minority background. The ONS found these groups have a greater risk of dying with coronavirus than white people.

The West Midlands has also been badly affected with eight in every ten areas in the region recording excess deaths above the national average.

Redditch registered a third more than its usual deaths. Many people there work in sectors most exposed to the virus like care, services and manufacturing.

In the East Midlands, Oadby and Wigston registered 35% more deaths than usual. The town, along with Leicester, was one of the first areas to have restrictions re-imposed in the summer.

Barnsley, in Yorkshire and the Humber, is also among the worst top 20, with 35% more deaths than average. The area is among the most deprived places in England.

COVID-19 has had a greater impact on deprived areas. Many of these are in the north of England, including Burnley and Rochdale.

In Scotland, areas around Edinburgh and Glasgow have fared worst. South Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire and East Dunbartonshire registered 24% more deaths than the 5-year average.

In Wales, Merthyr Tydfill is not only among the top 20 places with highest excess deaths, but it also has the second highest COVID-19 death rate in the UK, after Rhondda Cynon Taf, also in Wales.

And in the South East, five of the top ten places with the highest excess deaths are in Kent where the new variant, that caused a spike in infections, began.

When did most extra deaths happen?

Deaths within 28 days of a positive test have been highest in January 2021, but most of the excess deaths happened during the spring.

In the 10 weeks between the end of March and the start of June, 52% more people died in the UK than usual. Some 20% more deaths were registered between mid-October and the first week of January.

This doesn’t mean the current wave is less deadly than the first. The chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, has said the deaths are yet to peak, so we can expect totals to increase in the coming weeks.

Where have people been dying?

When deaths peaked in spring, it exposed the crisis in care homes.

Now, hospitals are recording more excess deaths. This difference has been especially stark since Christmas as the new variant spreads and COVID-19 admissions reach new highs.

But excess deaths have been highest in people’s own homes. Since the start of the pandemic in mid-March, 48,300 more people have died at home than expected, 41% above normal.

And COVID-19 only appeared on the death certificate for 2-3% of all people to die at home. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) found heart disease and dementia were the main causes.

It is unclear whether these people who died at home might have died in hospital in non-COVID times. But there is little doubt that tens of thousands of people have lost their lives to the pandemic, both directly to the virus and to its impact on our lives.

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