England records more excess deaths than other European countries, data shows

Rows of new graves being prepared at High Wood Cemetery, Nottingham. Credit: PA

England recorded more excess deaths than 28 other European countries in the first quarter of the year, according to the latest data.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) look at the number of deaths, coronavirus and all others, across European countries between January and June 2020.

While England did not have the highest peak in the number of deaths, it did record the highest levels of excess mortality in Europe across the period as a whole.

Global Covid-19 cases and deaths. Credit: PA

The government has been reluctant to make international comparisons of Covid-19 death tolls during the pandemic, citing the differences in how countries record deaths.

In May the Department of Health announced a rise of 693 Covid-19 deaths in the UK.

It brought the then-total death toll to 29,427 - surpassing the death toll in Italy at that point, and putting the UK as the highest death toll in Europe.

But the ONS data looks at "all cause mortality," removing the issue, and also taking into account the knock-on impact of the outbreak, to include deaths that might be related to its impact.

  • Ben Humberstone, Deputy Director of Health Analysis and Life Events at ONS explains why 'all-cause mortality' was looked at:

Spain had the highest peak in excess deaths across the 29 countries in the study.

None of the four UK nations had a peak mortality level as high as Spain but excess mortality was geographically widespread throughout the UK during the outbreak - it was more geographically localised in most countries of Western Europe.

Italian military trucks moving coffins leave the cemetery of Bergamo, one of the areas worst hit by the coronavirus. Credit: AP

At a more local level, the highest rates of excess deaths were in areas in central Spain and northern Italy.

Bergamo, in northern Italy, had the highest peak excess mortality of 847.7% - recorded in the week ending 20 March.

The highest rate recorded in a local authority in the UK was in Brent. The area reported a 375.5% excess morality rate in the week ending 17 April.

Staff at Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham Credit: ITV News

The ONS looked at the impact in major cities in Europe too.

The highest peak excess mortality (432.7%) was recorded in Spain's capital city Madrid in the week ending 27 March.

In the UK, Birmingham had the highest peak excess mortality of any other major British city at 249.7% reported in the week ending 17 April.

  • How did the UK compare to Spain and Italy in the data?

Edward Morgan, Health Analysis and Life Events, at the ONS said: "The results demonstrate the tragic impact Covid-19 has had across Europe".

He added: "Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the first half of 2020 saw extraordinary increases in mortality rates across countries in Western Europe above the 2015 to 2019 average."

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the nation "has had a massive success" in reducing the number of deaths, when asked about Thursday's ONS figures.

Asked if he was "ashamed" over the analysis, he said: "We mourn every loss of life that we’ve had throughout the coronavirus epidemic.

"What I would say to them (families of the deceased) is that we really owe it to them to continue our work in driving the virus down," he said.

"Clearly this country has had a massive success now in reducing the numbers of those tragic deaths."

He added: "We’ve got it at the moment under some measure of control. The numbers of deaths are well, well down.

"But I have to tell you that we’re looking at a resurgence of the virus in some other European countries. You can see what’s been happening in the United States."

ITV News Correspondent Rebecca Barry has more on the data release:

In response to Thursday's publication a government spokesperson said: "Every death from this disease is a tragedy and our sympathies are with all those who have lost loved ones.

 "This is an unprecedented global pandemic and our understanding of its impact on different countries and societies will improve as we learn more.

"Today’s report from ONS shows us where the highest peaks were across Europe when factors like age and gender are taken into account. However, this is a novel virus and we are still working to fully understand all the factors driving this pandemic.

"At all stages we have been guided by the latest scientific advice, and the action we have taken has allowed us to protect the vulnerable and ensure the NHS was not overwhelmed, even at the virus’ peak."