There were no excess deaths in England and Wales last week for the first time since August, official figures revealed today – as experts said the devastation of the second wave was firmly behind us.
Office of National Statistics (ONS) data showed there were 511 fewer fatalities from all causes including dementia, heart disease and Covid than expected, marking a 4.4 per cent dip from the five-year average. Deaths were also below this level in all regions except the East Midlands.
Statisticians use the five-year average to estimate how many deaths would be expected in a particular week. It is calculated by averaging fatalities in the same seven-day period over the previous five years.
They had suggested deaths could dip below this level by Easter, because many people had died earlier than expected due to the pandemic – with more fatalities caused due to infections with the virus and disruption to routine healthcare services.
Experts today heralded the figures as ‘encouraging’ and ‘suggesting the second devastating wave of the pandemic is behind us’. But Professor Neil Ferguson – whose modelling spooked ministers into the first lockdown – warned Britain would need to remain vigilant ‘particularly given the threat posed by new variants’.
Covid deaths have also dropped by a third, the figures showed, after 1,501 were registered last week compared to the 2,105 from the seven-day spell before.
And deaths among care home residents linked to the virus have halved in a fortnight, after 300 were recorded last week compared to the 636 two weeks before.
The Department of Health publishes a daily Covid death toll which has already shown a sharper dip in fatalities. But the figures from statisticians at the ONS lag behind by about two weeks because they are asked to go through every death certificate to pick out all those mentioning the virus, alongside fatalities from other causes.
It comes as Prince Charles calls on Britons to remember the lives ‘tragically cut short’ at 12pm, when the UK stands in silence on the first anniversary of lockdown. Boris Johnson has promised to end shutdowns ‘once and for all’.
PRINCE CHARLES CALLS ON BRITONS TO REMEMBER THE LIVES CUT SHORT TODAY
Prince Charles today called on Britain to ‘remember the lives tragically cut short’ by Covid-19 ahead of a national vigil this lunchtime as Boris Johnson marked the first anniversary of the first national lockdown in 2020 by vowing to end them ‘once and for all’.
The Prime Minister will hold a national minute’s silence at midday to remember the 126,000 people who have died during the pandemic as around 10,000 families still grieve their loved-ones.
And tonight Britons are being encouraged to stand on their doorsteps at 8pm and light candles as a ‘beacon of remembrance’ for those who have lost their lives.
Prince Charles has lent his support to the day of national reflection being held on the anniversary of the first UK lockdown.
In a recorded message, the heir to the throne, who is a patron of end-of-life charity Marie Curie, said: ‘We have all been inspired by the resourcefulness we have witnessed, humbled by the dedication shown by so many, and moved, beyond words, by the sacrifices we have seen.
‘Whatever our faith or philosophy may be, let us take a moment together to remember those who have been lost, to give thanks for their lives, and to acknowledge the inexpressible pain of parting. In their memory, let us resolve to work for a future inspired by our highest values, that have been displayed so clearly by the people of this country through this most challenging of times.’
And in a message released last night, the Prime Minister also urged people to ‘also remember the great spirit shown by our nation over this past year’, as millions of NHS staff and other critical workers worked tirelessly through the pandemic. While tens of millions of people have worked from home and home-schooled their children during the greatest crisis the country has faced since the Second World War.
ONS data showed there were 10,987 deaths from all causes in the week to March 12, which was below the five-year average of 11,498.
This marked the first time deaths had dipped below this level since the week ending September 4 when 7,739 deaths were recorded, which was 1,443 less than the 9,182 expected at the time of year.
Across England all regions registered fewer deaths than expected except the East Midlands, which had 12 more fatalities than the 987 predicted.
The South West had the biggest dip from the five-year average after deaths in the region fell by 8.4 per cent, or dropped 107 below the 1,268 fatalities predicted.
It was followed by Yorkshire and the Humber, where they were 7.2 per cent below or 81 fewer fatalities than the 1,118 expected, and the South East, where they were seven per cent below or 122 fewer fatalities than the 1,754 expected.
Professor Ferguson, a top epidemiologist and SAGE adviser at Imperial College London, said the figures were an encouraging sign that the UK had now passed the worst of the second wave.
‘But calling epidemics “waves” can be misleading, in implying a phenomenon which has reached a natural end,’ he warned today. ‘That is not the case here.
‘The rapid decline in deaths we’ve thankfully seen is entirely because of the lockdown and the rapid roll-out of vaccines.
‘So, while I’m optimistic that this we will be able to return to something more like normal in the next few months, we need to remain vigilant and cautious in the pace with which social distancing is relaxed – particularly given the threat still posed by new variants of the virus.’
Professor Kevin McConway, a statistician at the Open University, said it was ‘excellent’ to see deaths had fallen below the five-year average although he didn’t think this marked the end of the second wave.
‘Last week I commented that I expected death registrations in England and Wales to fall below the five-year average in the next week or two, and in fact it took only one week,’ he said.
‘This fall in the total number of deaths is almost entirely because deaths involving Covid-19 have fallen very considerably.’
The statistician said there was a ‘really consistent pattern’ in the data of deaths involving the virus falling every week.
‘Some of this will be from the continuing effects of lockdowns,’ he said.
‘The data so far go up only to the first week when schools reopened in England, and though that probably had an effect on slowing up the fall in infections, it’s too early to see any sign of that in death registrations.
‘But a considerable proportion of the fall in deaths involving Covid-19 must be because of vaccinations.’