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5 May 2020updated 04 Sep 2021 12:23pm

How the UK overtook Italy to become the country with the highest Covid-19 death toll in Europe

The current death toll of 32,375 is higher than any country in the world except the US.  

By Michael Goodier

The UK now has the highest known death toll from Covid-19 in Europe. New figures show a total of 29,710 deaths in England and Wales linked to the disease as of 24 April.

This accounts for all cases mentioning Covid-19 on the death certificate, a figure that includes people who weren’t necessarily tested but had shown symptoms. When figures from Scotland (2,272 deaths as of 26 April) and Northern Ireland (393 up to 24 April) are included, the UK total rises to 32,375 – higher than any country in the world apart from the US, and the highest death toll in Europe.

In one sense, headlines stating that Britain has the worst death toll in Europe are true – based on what we know, no other country has confirmed as many deaths.

However, in another sense, it is comparing apples with oranges. Other countries, such as Italy, have not published up-to-date statistics using the same death certificate methodology as the UK, meaning that their deaths total is likely to rise once these are published in the future.

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At present we can only compare the UK’s figures with the daily numbers released by other countries of people dying after being confirmed to have Covid-19 – figures which exclude a significant number of deaths.

For example, the daily 24 April figure for the UK put the total at 22,792 (and even as of 4 May only showed 28,734 deaths) – far lower than the true number.

As Nick Stripe of the Office for National Statistics noted on Twitter: “UK death registrations data is the fastest, most frequent and most in depth than any other stats agency”. He added: “ISTAT [the Italian stats agency] yesterday brought out data for deaths in March. It showed 25,000 excess deaths and almost double those attributed to Covid previously. We’ve just reported up to 24 April.”

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In short, what we know is that the Covid-19 death toll in the UK is continuing to rise, and that the country has reported more deaths from the disease than anywhere else in Europe. What we don’t yet know is exactly how the UK will end up comparing to other countries once they release similar data.