England and Wales suffered the second deadliest week of the coronavirus pandemic at the end of January, official figures revealed today.
Office for National Statistics data shows 8,433 people had the virus mentioned on their death certificates over the seven days to January 29. This was just 11 fatalities more than the week before, showing the death toll had finally slowed.
Covid was involved in 45 per cent of deaths over the most recent week, when a total of 18,448 fatalities from all causes were recorded. This is the highest proportion attributed to the virus since March.
The ONS report also showed three English regions still recorded more than 1,000 coronavirus deaths in the same week. All regions saw a week-on-week rise in Covid deaths except the North East, South East and London.
But the capital, as well as the South East and the East of England – all three of which bore the brunt of the second wave after an outbreak of the Kent variant – had four-digit fatality tolls.
In the South East it was 1,710 deaths, down 24 from the previous week, while in the East it was 1,297, up from 81 the seven days prior. London recorded 1,265 deaths, down 135 from the previous week.
Some 2,505 care home residents deaths also involved Covid-19 in the most recent week, which was almost a third of the total and the highest number of fatalities linked to the virus for the most vulnerable since May 1.
The deadliest week of the pandemic was at the peak of the first wave in mid-April, when 8,758 people had Covid-19 included on their death certificates.
ONS death figures are still rising because they are recording deaths from the last month, after statisticians analyse each fatality to identify all those where the virus was mentioned.
But the Department of Health’s daily updates show the number of deaths from the virus has now started to fall in line with nose-diving infections, suggesting ONS figures may begin to drop next week.
There is a delay of about three weeks between someone getting infected with the virus and sadly succumbing to the disease, meaning it takes time for a dip in cases to show up in the deaths figures.
Above is the proportion of fatalities triggered by the virus during the second wave of the pandemic. It shows that the highest proportion was in the most recent week, January 29, where it accounted for 45 per cent of all deaths
The week ending January 29, the latest for which data is available, was the deadliest of the pandemic, according to the ONS. It also saw the highest proportion of deaths from the virus registered since March, where they accounted for half of the total
Fatalities from all causes were above the five-year average in all regions of England and Wales, ONS data shows, which tracks how many deaths are expected in a particular week
But there are signs that deaths from Covid-19 likely peaked in England in January. There was a dip in fatalities in London, and they also plateaued in the South East and North East. PA news agency says they may have peaked on January 19, as this is when the highest figure of 1,404 deaths from the virus in 24 hours was reached
Some 2,505 care home residents died from the virus in the most recent week in all settings – which was almost a third of the total number of deaths from the disease
Those aged 85 and over accounted for the highest number of deaths from the virus, official data from the ONS shows
SIX OUT OF 10 DEADLIEST WEEKS ON RECORD HAPPENED DURING THE PANDEMIC
Six of the 10 deadliest weeks ever recorded in England and Wales occurred during the pandemic, statistics show.
THE 10 DEADLIEST EVER WEEKS IN ENGLAND AND WALES, SINCE ONS RECORDS BEGAN
Number of deaths
The total number of deaths from all causes registered in the week to January 29 was 44 per cent above the five-year average for the number of fatalities expected at this time of year.
All regions in England had a higher number of deaths than average – with hotspot London worst-hit after suffering 1,144 excess deaths, double the number predicted by previous years.
But there are early signs that the tide of Covid-19 fatalities, which are driving the spike in deaths, had turned before the end of January – roughly three weeks after infections also dipped.
London saw its fatalities involving the virus drop by 10 per cent, or 135 deaths, from 1,400 the week before to 1,265 in the previous week.
And there was a plateau in the North East, where they dropped by four per cent from 279 to 269, and in the South East, where they fell by one per cent from 1,734 and 1,710.
All other regions saw a rise in the number of deaths from coronavirus.
There were also signs of fatalities plateauing among age groups in the most recent week data is available, which again suggests the second wave of fatalities peaked in January.
Among over-75s they dipped by 75 deaths compared to the previous week, to 6,542.
And for those aged 65 to 74 they plateaued after falling by eight deaths to 1,406.
The two age groups still accounted for the highest number of deaths from the virus, however. There have been no deaths from the virus in those under 14 since the start of 2021, and three deaths involving Covid-19 among those aged 15 to 44.
Analysis by the PA news agency suggests the second wave peaked on January 19, when a height of 1,404 deaths involving the virus were recorded over 24 hours. They then did not rise above 1,300 since this date.
Professor David Spiegelhalter, an eminent statistician at the University of Cambridge, predicted that from next week the ONS should show a drop in Covid deaths.
‘The daily dashboard shows a clear and rapid decline in deaths involving Covid-19 since January 19th, and so next week we should see this reflected in death registrations,’ he said.
‘Deaths registered in the week ending January 29th were 45 per cent higher than the five-year average. But this is combined with extraordinarily low levels of deaths that are not caused by Covid-19, the lowest for at least 5 years.
‘There is almost no flu circulating, and sadly many vulnerable older people, who would have survived until now, have already had their lives shortened.’
Professor Rowland Kao, a statistician from the University of Edinburgh, said the total number of Covid-19 deaths registered by the ONS remained high because of the lag between someone catching the disease and sadly succumbing to the symptoms.
‘The deaths we are seeing are at least in part due to the very large numbers of infections we saw that continued into January,’ he said.
‘The fact that the absolute numbers are on the decline mirrors the decline in cases we have seen over the last few weeks, and is good news in that it is further evidence that the epidemic of Covid-19 in England and Wales appears to be on the decline under the current measures.
‘Deaths will decline more slowly than might have been expected prior to the dominance of the “Kent” B.1.1.7 variant, for which the evidence is that it has a higher rate of fatalities for those infected.
‘This, and the still high numbers of deaths, means that continued vigilance needs to applied.
‘However, especially as the current vaccines appear to have continued protection against severe disease, we can expect the numbers of deaths to continue to decline, so long as other non-pharmaceutical restrictions remains sufficient.’
Department of Health figures show Covid-19 cases in England peaked on January 1, when an average of 54,000 were being recorded daily, before they began to fall in response to brutal lockdown measures.
The latest data shows there was an average of 17,000 on February 3, representing a four-fold drop from the tip of the second wave.
Daily deaths also started to fall on January 19, after they hit a height of 1,155 fatalities from the virus within 24 hours.
The Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday claimed Britain is ‘turning a corner in our battle against coronavirus’ as daily deaths plunged to a six-week low and cases continued to fall.
Despite revealing the second wave was shrinking, the Health Secretary warned the number of infected patients in hospital and daily deaths were both still ‘far too high’. Almost 30,000 NHS hospital beds are currently taken up by Covid patients — 50 per cent higher than the worst days of the first wave last spring but down from 40,000 at the peak of the second wave in January.
Praising the success of lockdown in a Downing Street press conference, he said: ‘We are turning a corner in our battle against coronavirus, the vaccine rollout is going well, and if you are aged 70 or over and haven’t been contacted yet please get in touch now.
‘And all the time we must be vigilant and do what it takes to tackle any new variants that arise. For now, the most important thing that you can do is get the jab when the time comes, stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.’