The peak of Covid-19 deaths may have passed in the UK, but only now are we beginning to piece together how many people this first wave has killed.
We know that the “official” death tallies announced by the government every day are an underestimate – they only include people who have tested positive for the virus, and until recently only included people who died in hospital. A better approach is to count the number of people who have died of any cause, and see how that compares with the same weeks in previous years. It is a reasonable (if imperfect) inference that these “excess deaths” will be either directly due to Covid-19, or due to the disruption to health and care services it has brought in its wake.
We now know that there were 46,380 more deaths than expected in England and Wales in the eight weeks to 1 May. The official death tally from Covid-19 stood at 26,251 on that date. There were 37,627 deaths in care homes in the eight weeks to 1 May, more than twice as many as expected.
England has seen extremely high excess mortality compared to other parts of Europe; places like Norway and Berlin have had barely any more deaths than usual throughout the crisis. ONS figures provide a localised picture of Covid-19 related deaths. While outbreaks have been scattered throughout the UK, overall the most deprived places have shouldered the heaviest burden. The peak has passed; the political reckoning may still lie ahead.
This article appears in the 13 May 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Land of confusion