Coronavirus: Deaths in England and Wales over one week fall below five-year average for first time since March

30 June 2020, 09:52 | Updated: 30 June 2020, 14:45

The number of registered deaths in England and Wales has fallen below the five-year average for the first time since the lockdown began, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

There were a total of 9,339 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending 19 June - 65 fewer than the five-year average of 9,404.

Of those newly registered deaths, 783 mentioned "novel coronavirus", which is the lowest number of deaths involving the illness for 12 weeks.

In care homes and hospitals, the number of deaths also fell below the average, with 49 and 782 fewer deaths respectively.

However, there were 827 excess deaths in private homes.

Tuesday's new ONS figures, along with those from Scotland and Northern Ireland, bring the total number of excess deaths since the coronavirus outbreak began to just over 65,000 - largely unchanged from last week.

The number of people dying with COVID-19 fell everywhere in England and Wales, the figures show.

Sky's economics editor Ed Conway said: "For the first time since COVID-19 started killing people here, the number of people dying across the UK is below the seasonal average.

"It may have taken longer than anyone hoped for, but this wave of excess deaths seems to be over."

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In the South East, South West, North West and East of England, no excess deaths were registered.

Wales did however record 44 more deaths than the five-year average.

Five English regions also recorded deaths above the five-year average, the ONS data shows, including the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber, London, northeast England and the West Midlands.

The announcement comes as Leicester becomes the first city to be placed in to a local lockdown, after cases of COVID-19 spiked in the city.

Analysis: This will be an enormous relief

By Ed Conway, economics editor

At last, some good news.

For the first time since the onset of COVID-19, the number of people dying across the UK is below the seasonal average.

Given "excess deaths" as they are called have been perhaps the most important, and most depressing, of all the statistics over the course of this pandemic, the fact that at last Britain is not recording any excess deaths is a major watershed moment. This wave of mortality - almost certainly the worst since the Spanish influenza a century ago - is now over.

This will be an enormous relief to both policymakers and the public, given the UK faced one of the worst periods for general mortality of any major nation.

The drop into below-average mortality is largely down to a sudden fall in the number of deaths registered in England and Wales. In the week ending 12 June, 559 more deaths happened in England and Wales than happened in that week in previous years - but in the following week, the week ending 19 June, total deaths were 65 below the historical average - a bigger drop than many anticipated.

And while there are still excess deaths being recorded in Scotland and Northern Ireland, they are low enough (39 and four respectively) that it does look as if most parts of the UK are now back to what might be considered "normal" mortality levels.

That being said, this is hardly the end of the story. For one thing scientists are still concerned about a second wave of the disease. For another, there are concerns that the long-term effects of the lockdown, with some patients with chronic diseases not going into hospital, could increase mortality.

It will take some time before we know what the final toll is from COVID-19 and indeed the lockdown.

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Indeed a glance beneath the headline numbers and you find that many more people - just under 1,000 - died at home in that latest week, ending June 19.

Excess deaths at hospital were about 900 below the usual level for this time of year. While the excess mortality in domestic settings is dropping it's falling at nothing like the speed of overall levels, underlining that a lot of people may simply not going in to their doctors or hospital in the face of the lockdown.

At this watershed moment, it is worth pausing for a second to consider the scale of the wave of mortality we have just undergone. Over the past four months, there were just over 65,000 excess deaths across the UK.

Of those deaths, about 54,000 were put down to COVID-19, which underlines that the diseases officially counted as COVID-19 are only one part of the mortality story.

It has been one of the worst episodes of its kind in British history. But the good news is that we might now be able to start talking about it in the past tense rather than the present tense.

It has been an ordeal. But it might, just might, now be at an end.