High reported Covid-19 deaths due to Easter holiday backlog

Posts on social media claim that 482 Covid-19 deaths were reported in the UK on 19 April, 508 on 20 April and 646 on 21 April.

While these figures are correct, they need significant additional context.

Firstly, these figures represent the number of deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test reported on each day, not the number that occurred on each day.

Not all of these deaths would necessarily have been due to Covid-19. Some may have been people who happened to have Covid-19 but died of something else. 

Because there’s a lag in reporting statistics about the cause of death, it’s hard to say right now how many of those deaths were caused by Covid-19. 

But, to illustrate the issue using slightly older and more complete data, in the first two months of 2022 there were 12,954 deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test, while there were 10,311 deaths where Covid-19 was listed as a cause of death. 

Further to this, around 60% to 80% of deaths in each week of 2022 involving Covid-19 are determined to have an underlying cause of Covid-19. These are deaths where Covid-19 was the only condition listed on the death certificate, or the one which started the train of events leading directly to death.

By comparison, deaths involving Covid-19 also include those where it was listed as contributing to death, but was not the underlying cause.

The second issue is that the reason why the death totals have been so high in recent days is because deaths were not being reported over the Easter weekend, which included two bank holidays.

Official data shows zero deaths were reported from Friday 15 April to Monday 18 April, meaning there was a backlog of deaths to be reported afterwards. 

Data on the number of Covid-19 deaths by the date of death rather than by the date of reporting, shows that the daily number is falling. 

A similar issue is also responsible for claims made throughout the pandemic of “soaring” Covid-19 deaths being reported on Tuesdays. This is a result of a backlog of unreported deaths occurring over the previous weekend being processed, rather than a genuine increase in deaths.  

Image courtesy of Navy Medicine

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