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England sees highest excess death rate in Europe during Covid-19 pandemic

England has suffered the highest rate of excess deaths during the Covid-19 pandemic than any other country in Europe, figures from the Office for National Statistics has shown.

Figures for the first half of 2020 show that while other countries, notably Spain and Italy, had higher peaks of excess deaths, England had the longest continuous period of excess mortality in Europe.

The ONS data shows that the more geographically widespread excess mortality in England and a relatively slow downward ‘tail’ of deaths between February and June contributed to its place at the top of the excess mortality rate table.

Bergamo in Northern Italy saw the highest peak of excess mortality at 847.7%, the ONS report concluded. Central Spain also had one of the highest peaks of excess deaths.

Data from major cities showed that Madrid had the highest excess death rate of 432.7% at the end of March compared with 249.7% in Birmingham in mid-April which was the highest seen in any British city.

ONS statistician Edward Morgan said the coronavirus pandemic had resulted in ‘extraordinary increases’ in mortality rates across Western Europe compared with the 2015-2019 average.

‘While none of the four UK nations had a peak mortality level as high as Spain or the worst-hit local areas of Spain and Italy, excess mortality was geographically widespread throughout the UK during the pandemic, whereas it was more geographically localised in most countries of Western Europe.

‘Combined with the relatively slow downward ‘tail’ of the pandemic in the UK, this meant that by the end of May, England had seen the highest overall relative excess mortality out of all the European countries compared.’

In an analysis of the data that took into account the age of the population, England still had the highest death rates in Europe up to the end of May followed by Spain, Scotland, Belgium and Wales. 

The news comes as experts have warned that deaths from Covid-19 may be one-fifth higher than reported by Public Health England (PHE) throughout the coronavirus pandemic. According to the latest ONS statistics, 48,532 deaths relating to Covid-19 have now been registered.

Dr Veena Raleigh, senior fellow at The King’s Fund, said: ‘Over the past decade, life expectancy improvements in the UK have lagged behind our European peers. With the worst coronavirus death toll in Europe, there is a very real risk that the UK will slide even further down the life expectancy league tables.

‘The priority for the UK is to control the pandemic and learn lessons ahead of a potential second wave, but it is also essential to tackle the underlying reasons for stalling life expectancy in recent years – many of which contribute to poor Covid-19 outcomes.’

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: ‘The official confirmation today that England has had the highest level of excess deaths in Europe is a devastating moment.

‘Every life lost is a tragedy and leaves behind grieving families. We can no longer hide from the fact the Government has not handled this crisis well and needs to urgently learn lessons from its mistakes.’

Earlier this week, the Public Accounts Committee condemned the Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic in care homes and branded it as ‘negligent’. The report highlighted poor PPE provision as well as the decision to discharge 25,000 patients from hospitals without first testing them for the virus.


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