Here's Why Covid Death Numbers Just Hit Their Highest In A Year

More than 500 Covid deaths were recorded on Wednesday – an expert unpicks that number.
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More than 500 Covid deaths were recorded on Wednesday this week, the highest number of daily deaths since February 23, 2021.

There were also 88,085 new cases of the virus reported in the past 24 hours.

If you’re thinking these figures seem at odds with the recent easing of public health restrictions and so many people returning to work, it’s understandable.

Though there has been a real-time fall in infection rates, cases are still high as Covid hits young people – and their parents. Around one in eight children from age two to school year 6 are likely to have had Covid in the past week, and reinfection remains significant, even among the vaccinated.

However, there are reasons why these numbers aren’t all they seem. According to the UK Health Security Agency, there are currently delays in the reporting of daily deaths, which means the data for the past 24 hours includes a backlog and death figures are higher than would normally be the case.

HuffPost UK spoke to an expert to unpick those figures and what they mean.

Why are Covid deaths so high?

Paul Hunter, an expert in infectious diseases at the University of East Anglia, explains: “Three weeks ago case numbers were very high. But deaths are decreasing. The big jump [on Wednesday] was an artefact, because of a catch-up from deaths not reported over recent days.”

Prof Hunter also points out that the definition of “death within 28 days” used to record Covid deaths has been changed to include deaths linked to reinfections, making it higher.

“Overall there was 1806 deaths within 28 days of a positive test reported in the UK in the 7 days up to Feb 2 2022 (an average of 258 per day),” he says, which highlights that Wednesday’s figure of 500 is inflated from that daily average.

“We have now started to see death numbers falling and I would expect reported deaths falling further over the next two weeks,” he adds.

What’s more, for the first time this pandemic, we are seeing the proportion of deaths within 28 days where Covid appears on the death certificate falling. “So, in about 20% of deaths within 28 days, the certifying doctor didn’t think Covid contributed to the death (ie. the Covid result was thought to be an incidental finding).”

Should we be worried?

While some people have suggested that Plan B was scrapped sooner than was wise, Prof Hunter believes there isn’t any benefit of going back to restrictions at a time when reported infection numbers seem to have fallen again.

“Ultimately tighter restrictions now would not prevent but merely delay infections and with declining protection from vaccines delaying infections could actually increase the cumulative risk of severe disease and death,” he says.

He also seeks to reassure those worried by this week’s big numbers. “It is important to follow deaths, but it takes about 30 days after a change in policy, before it would have a big impact on reported deaths,” he says.

“Overall deaths from Covid are still too high but we are in a much better position than we were this time last year and we can expect this situation to improve further in coming weeks as infection numbers decline further.”