How The UK Reached 100,000 Covid Deaths – Twice

This is the first time the government's own death toll has hit the grim milestone.

The UK has reached a dark milestone of the coronavirus pandemic: the country’s Covid-19 death toll reached an awful 100,000 on Tuesday.

But you may have a grim sense of deja vu – headlines proclaiming 100,000 people had died in the UK were published on January 13, too.

So how come we’re seeing them again nearly two weeks later?

In short, counting the number of people who have died of coronavirus isn’t as straightforward as you might hope. A number of different measures are used by a number of different official bodies.

The one you’re probably most used to seeing is the daily death toll, which in recent days has reached record highs.

These are numbers released daily through the government’s coronavirus dashboard website, and show how many people have died in the UK within 28 days of testing positive.

The running total of these deaths is also announced each day, and it is by this measure that the UK passed the 100,000 mark on Tuesday.

It should be noted, however, that – although these figures are released every 24 hours – they don’t necessarily report deaths that occurred over that same 24-hour period.

A death on, for example, December 20 might take more than a day to verify – say, if there is confusion over test results, or a delay in submitting data from a particular health trust.

That person’s death might then finally make its way into the total several days later (say, January 3).

The other figures that are regularly cited in the media are the weekly figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which releases a far more comprehensive but rather less up-to-date report.

The ONS collates deaths in which coronavirus has been suspected as a factor and recorded on a death certificate. That’s useful, especially when it comes to deaths that took place early in the pandemic when not many people were being tested. What’s less useful is that these figures are at least 11 days old because of how long they take to generate and record.

On Tuesday morning, the latest set of ONS figures was published, showing that by this measure the death toll now stands at 108,084 deaths. The previous week’s figure was 99,813.

So what about the headlines earlier this month that said we had already passed the 100,000 mark?

That figure was reached through a blend of two methods of counting: it combines death certificates data from the start of January with more recent daily deaths figures published since then.

It took the 93,030 deaths reported by the ONS on January 12, and added the daily deaths since that day to arrive at a total of 101,160.

By this hybrid method of counting, the UK’s death toll currently stands at 115,782.

Why didn’t we use that hybrid method in our reporting?

HuffPost UK has chosen to focus on Tuesday’s announcement, which uses the “deaths within 28 days of a positive test” figure that is supplied by the government each day.

That’s because blending two statistical methods together produces a figure that is inaccurate by both of those measures, with a level of inaccuracy that is much harder to quantify than a single counting method.

It’s also because we are better able to drill into who makes up the 100,000 Covid victims when we have a single dataset to use.

Finally, it’s for consistency: the government’s “28 days” counting method is the one most people are already familiar with, meaning we’re reporting 100,000 deaths the day after we reported 98,000, instead of jumping back and forth by changing methods.


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