Why the UK's coronavirus official death toll just increased by more than 4,000 in a day

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer
A medical worker at a drive-in coronavirus testing facility at the Chessington World of Adventures Resort in south west London. (PA)

The official death toll from coronavirus cases in the UK has seen a significant spike following the release of new data.

Figures on Tuesday showed there had been 21,678 deaths related to COVID-19 in hospitals.

However, newly-released data from the Government on Wednesday evening shows that 26,097 patients have now died.

That’s because the new data includes - for the first time - deaths that have happened in care homes and the wider community.

It means Wednesday’s announcement included an additional 765 deaths (from the updated daily figure) plus a total of 3,811 non-hospital fatalities. This latter figure consists of deaths that have taken place between 2 March and 28 April.

What is the new figure made up of?

The government's official daily death toll, released by the Department of Health and Social Care, has previously only taken into account hospital deaths related to the illness.

However, the full impact of COVID-19 on the UK has been revealed in the new figures, which combine the number of daily deaths in hospitals, care homes and the community linked to the killer virus.

The government has said it has released the new, updated figures in an effort to be as transparent with the public as possible and to give as much granular detail as it can.

It comes after figures released by the Office for National Statistics on Tuesday showed around three in 10 of all COVID-19 deaths are now occurring in care homes.

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The figures also include more than 100 social care workers. The spread of the virus in care homes, where elderly residents are most at risk from coronavirus, is a major cause of concern for the government.

Why are these figures only emerging now?

There is currently an 11-day time lag for the ONS data on the number of people who have died in care homes and their own homes after contracting coronavirus. But Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the public would receive up-to-date figures to go alongside the number of hospital deaths as of Wednesday, while the Department of Health and Social Care said figures dating back from early March up to April 28 would also be declared in an effort to “bring as much transparency as possible”.

How does the UK compare to the rest of Europe?

UK deaths put the country behind Italy, Spain and France in coronavirus deaths, according to Johns Hopkins. However, a government graph comparing the nation’s death rate to countries across the world indicated that, once community and care home deaths were factored in, the UK could end up with the highest casualty rate in Europe.

Before the ONS figures were released, the UK’s death toll stood at 21,678, behind France (23,660), Spain (23,822) and Italy (27,359).

It is now only behind Italy in Europe, and now has the third highest official coronavirus death toll in the world, behind the Mediterranean state and the US, which is the worst affected in the world. America has recorded more than 50,000 deaths.

Public Health England’s medical director Yvonne Doyle said on Wednesday, however, it was unclear if Spain was including its total deaths from care homes.

UK coronavirus deaths have been the highest among all major European countries for four consecutive days – and have overtaken France at this stage of the outbreak.

Last week, despite having been under lockdown since 23 March, the UK recorded the second highest number of coronavirus deaths over a five day period – again, only the US, with a bigger population, recorded more.

There are also disputes over how some countries have recorded their death tolls. China – where the virus is thought to have first appeared in humans – continues to deny it has covered up its own figures, as does Iran.

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