Every region in England saw zero Covid deaths at least once in the final week of April, official figures revealed today.
Office for National Statistics data showed virus fatalities have halved in a month. Covid was mentioned on 205 death certificates across England and Wales over the seven-day spell ending April 30. For comparison, the toll stood at more than 400 at the start of the month.
Only 140 listed Covid as the underlying cause of death, fewer than half of the 300 that were blamed on flu and pneumonia. Fatalities from the common illnesses overtook those down to Covid in the penultimate week of April for the first time since the second wave took off.
Daily occurrences suggested just 104 Covid deaths actually happened in the final week of April, but statisticians warn this number may rise slightly next week as more fatalities are registered. It can take a fortnight to process the necessary death certificate paperwork.
Deaths from all causes — including dementia, heart disease and Covid — remained below the five-year average for this time of year for the eighth week in a row.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the promising data ‘shows that our strategy is working’. He added: ‘The vaccine is saving lives in the real world, so when it’s your turn, come forward and get the jab’.
England recorded no deaths due to the virus yesterday for the first time since July, as the burgeoning vaccination drive inoculated two in three Britons, or 35.4million people.
Experts say the jabs are now doing much of the heavy lifting in driving down Covid fatalities, although they add curbs on movements are also helping to keep the disease at bay by strangling the spread of the virus.
Boris Johnson confirmed England would steam ahead with its next stage of lockdown easing yesterday, which will see bars and restaurants serve indoors again, larger gatherings permitted, and holidays abroad restart.
But the Prime Minister refused to be drawn on whether he would speed up plans to relax further restrictions despite reams of positive data suggesting the worst of the pandemic is firmly behind the country.
Gloomy SAGE scientists warned in papers published yesterday that Britain would likely face a third wave of Covid hospitalisations and deaths ‘at some point’, although this was unlikely to be as severe as in January 2021.
Covid deaths in England and Wales have halved in a month after 205 were registered in the last week of April, compared to 400 at the start of the month. Occurences data also shows every region of England went at least one day with no Covid deaths
Flu and pneumonia were blamed for double the number of deaths as Covid in the latest week. Figures showed there were 320 deaths where the common diseases were the underlying cause, compared to 140 for the pandemic virus
CARE HOME RESIDENT DEATHS A FIFTH ABOVE AVERAGE IN PANDEMIC
Care home resident deaths were a fifth above average during the coronavirus pandemic, official figures revealed today.
Office for National Statistics data showed some 173,974 fatalities from all causes were recorded among residents in England and Wales from March 14 last year to April 2.
This was up 20,000 deaths, or 19 per cent, based on the average number of fatalities in the group over the past five years (145,560).
Covid was blamed for 42,000 care home resident deaths, almost a quarter of the total.
The ONS figures covered care home residents deaths in all settings, including hospitals, care homes and other areas.
Experts have criticised ministers botched handling of care homes in the first wave, after thousands of potentially Covid-infected patients were discharged from hospitals to the homes.
ONS statistics showed fewer fatalities were recorded in the second wave, which hit harder in the country, compared to the first.
There were 89,528 Covid fatalities in the first wave up to early September, the ONS said, and 84,446 in the second.
The ONS said the difference between wavesmay be due to delayed access to care, rapid testing and personal protective equipment (PPE).
But in the second wave care home occupancy was lower and residents were prioritised for a vaccine.
And some of those who may have died in the second wave may have died earlier, the ONS said.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s was the most common cause of death in care home residents.
ONS data records Covid deaths by daily occurrences, which is the number of deaths that took place on a particular day rather than the number registered.
Experts say most deaths are registered within a week, but some can take considerably longer to be processed and placed on official statistics.
Their count lags by almost two weeks because statisticians need to go through every death certificate to identify all those that mention the virus. It is considered more accurate than the daily deaths figures from the Department of Health, because it takes into account deaths from all settings.
The South West and East Midlands both saw three days with zero Covid deaths in the last week of April, the highest number recorded.
The West Midlands and East of England went two days with no Covid deaths, while the North East, North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, London and the South East also went one day.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also had at least one day with no deaths involving the virus at the end of April, but England did not have a single 24-hour period with no Covid fatalities.
The highest number of Covid fatalities occurring in any region over the last week of April was six, recorded in the South East and East of England.
But this was half the previous high from the week before, 12 in Yorkshire and the Humber, and less than a twentieth of the almost 200 a day recorded in several regions at the peak of the second wave.
There were 9,692 deaths from all causes across England and Wales in the week to April 30, which was 249 fewer fatalities than the previous week and 766 fatalities (7.3 per cent) below average.
Professor Kevin McConway, a statistician at the Open University, said the figures in the ONS report were ‘pretty well entirely good news’.
‘Total registered deaths are down compared to the previous week in England and Wales, in England and Wales separately, in six of nine English regions, and in almost all age groups,’ he said.
‘(But) It doesn’t concern me that there were increases in three English regions, North East, East Midlands and South West, because when the numbers get as small as they are now, you would expect a few fluctuations like that just by chance.’
He predicted that an upturn in fatalities was unlikely in response to the second lockdown easing, when pubs, restaurants, shops and gyms were allowed to reopen. But that this may change after the final two stages.
‘I wouldn’t in fact expect an upturn in deaths because of (the second stage), because other data, from counts of new cases and the ONS infection survey, don’t show any sign of increasing infections.
‘However, things might change after the final two stages of the roadmap in England, next Monday (17 May) and 21 June, and modelling results released by SAGE yesterday do suggest that there will be a fairly small extra wave of illness and, sadly, deaths in late summer or early autumn.
‘The models do not predict numbers of deaths anywhere near what we saw in the previous waves, though there’s a lot of uncertainty depending on how much people change their behaviour and on other matters such as new virus variants.’
Mr Johnson confirmed yesterday that England would move to the next stage of the lockdown easing on May 17, but would not be drawn on whether the other parts of the roadmap can be sped up.
But there are warnings that a new Covid variant which bypasses vaccines would pose the ‘biggest risk’ to the roadmap plans next month.
Mr Hancock said the only thing that could prevent England from scrapping all restrictions on June 21 would be the emergence of a mutant strain that could make vaccinated people severely ill.
The Indian variant is causing the most concern at present. Government experts fear it could be more transmissible than the dominant Kent strain.
Cases of the B.1.617.2 variant — thought to have triggered a raging second wave in India — have risen tenfold in Britain in a month and make up almost half of all new infections in London.
But Mr Hancock suggested it would not threaten Britain’s lockdown-easing hopes because it did not pose ‘significant problems’ to vaccinated people.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘There is no doubt that a new variant is the biggest risk. We have this variant that was first seen in India – the so-called Indian variant – we have seen that grow.
‘We are putting a lot of resources into tackling it to make sure everybody who gets that particular variant gets extra support and intervention to make sure that it isn’t passed on. However, there is also, thankfully, no evidence that the vaccine doesn’t work against it.’
Mr Hancock said it was important to keep tight restrictions at the border to prevent undetected variants from being imported to the UK.
His comments were echoed by a prominent SAGE adviser who said the UK could return to pre-pandemic normal by the end of the year, as long as the country keeps out ‘nasty variants’.