UK now has highest coronavirus death toll in Europe after passing Italy's total

The UK now has the highest coronavirus death toll in Europe, according to the latest government figures.

The Department of Health announced a rise of 693 to 29,427, surpassing the latest death toll in Italy, which now stands at 29,315.

Italy had been the worst affected country in Europe up until now, but the government moved to dismiss "international comparisons" of coronavirus death tolls.

At Tuesday's daily government briefing on the coronavirus outbreak, Dominic Raab said: "In terms of the comparison you're suggesting… I don’t think we’ll get a real verdict on how well countries have done until the pandemic is over and particularly until we’ve got comprehensive international data on all cause of mortality."

In his defence of the government, Mr Raab said there are different ways of counting deaths from the virus.

“We now publish data that includes all deaths in all settings and not all countries do that so I’m not sure that the international comparison works unless you reliably know that all countries are measuring in the same way,” he said.

“And it also depends on how good frankly countries are at gathering their statistics and our own Office for National Statistics is widely acknowledged as a world leader."

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that 29,710 deaths involving Covid-19 had been registered in England and Wales up to May 2.

  • ITV News Correspondent Lucy Watson explains how the sets of data compare:

The latest figures from the National Records of Scotland, published last week, showed 2,272 deaths involving Covid-19 had been registered in Scotland up to April 26.

While the latest figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, also published last week, showed 393 deaths involving Covid-19 had been registered in Northern Ireland up to April 29.

In each case, the figures are based on all mentions of Covid-19 on a death certificate, including suspected Covid-19.

Updated figures from the National Records of Scotland are due to be published on Wednesday.

It mean a total of 32,375 deaths involving COVID-19 have now been registered across the UK.

Dominic Raab hosted Tuesday's daily coronavirus press conference. Credit: AP

Academics have spoken out against international comparisons, Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, warned that "cross-country comparisons are difficult".

“Approaches to recording deaths can vary greatly from country to country, such as the data entered on to a death certificate," he said.

“The UK records direct and indirect causes of death plus also other contributing factors.

“There may be variation in how doctors record the impact of Covid-19 in any individual death on to those certificates, and this practice can vary from country to country – for example, are suspected Covid-19 cases included in the death statistics or is it purely confirmed cases?”

Lockdown measures in Italy are starting to be eased as reported daily deaths fall. Credit: AP

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, chairman of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at the University of Cambridge echoed that warning.

"The one thing we can be certain of is that all these numbers are substantial underestimates of the true number who have died from Covid, and an even bigger underestimate of the number who have died because of the epidemic and the measures taken against it.

"I think we can safely say that none of these countries are doing well, but this is not Eurovision and it is pointless to try and rank them.

He added: "Approaches to recording deaths can vary greatly from country to country, such as the data entered on to a death certificate."

Murals and street art have appeared around the UK to thanks NHS workers. Credit: AP

The ONS figures also show coronavirus-related deaths in care homes nearly doubled in a week in England and Wales to 5,890.

The latest statistics cover the week ending Friday, April 24, and are almost twice what they were in the previous week.

There were 5,890 coronavirus-related care home deaths registered up to April 24 in England and Wales, up from just over 3,000 the week before.

However, 22,143 deaths of people in England and Wales testing positive for Covid-19 were reported by the Department of Health & Social Care for the same period.

There is a disparity because The ONS counts any death as part of its figures if Covid-19 is included on the death certificate - whereas the Government only includes this if the virus is recorded as the cause of death.

In total, there were 7,713 deaths involving Covid-19 in England and Wales registered up to April 24 that occurred outside hospitals.

Of these:

  • 5,890 took place in care homes

  • 1,306 in private homes

  • 301 in hospices

  • 105 in other communal establishments, and

  • 111 elsewhere

Deaths have increased in care homes.

Up to May 1, there were 6,391 deaths in care homes involving coronavirus reported by care home providers in England to the Care Quality Commission, the ONS added.

The figures come as the global death toll from the coronavirus pandemic topped 250,000 on Tuesday, according to the Johns Hopkins University virus tracker.

The US accounts for nearly 70,000 of those deaths while the UK’s toll rose by 288 to 28,734 on Monday, according to figures from the Department of Health.

Across Europe and the US, around 145,000 have died after contracting the virus, according to AFP.

More than 3.5 million cases have been confirmed worldwide since the outbreak.

Matt Hancock said last week that up-to-date figures will be released. Credit: Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright

There is currently an 11-day time lag for the Office of National Statistics’ (ONS) data on the number of people who have died in care homes and their own homes after contracting coronavirus.

The ONS looks at registered deaths, i.e death certificates that include a mention of Covid-19, so there is a lag in the data.

A government graph comparing the nation’s death rate to countries across the world last month indicated that when all coronavirus-related deaths are taken into account, the UK could end up with the highest casualty rate in Europe.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know