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21 April 2020updated 06 Oct 2020 9:45am

Lunchtime summary: ONS data undercounts deaths, but still paints a horrific picture

By Samuel Horti

New data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has given us a clearer picture of the true impact of Covid-19 on the British public: 8,000 more people than normal died in England and Wales in the week to 10 April, the ONS said, and the coronavirus death rate in care homes quadrupled over the same period (see stories below).

But even those horrifying statistics do not tell the full story. The ONS data on deaths likely undercounted the true death toll by at least a “couple of thousand”, according to the ONS’s head of health analysis Nick Stripe. On Good Friday, 10 April, only around a third of registration offices were open. “So actually that number is slightly deflated because if the registration offices had been open, maybe another couple of thousand, if not more, deaths would have been registered,” he told the BBC.

The ONS data also appears to undercount the number of coronavirus-related deaths in care homes. The number of deaths that do not mention coronavirus on the death certicate spiked in the week to 10 April to 4,101, up from 3,574 in the previous week. At least some of those deaths are likely directly related to the virus, or else occurred as a result of the strain the virus is putting on healthcare resources. 

The virus is also devastating businesses: an ONS survey of more than 5,000 companies shows that, up to 5 April, a quarter of businesses had temporarily shut down, and those continuing to trade had furloughed more than a fifth of their staff.

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