Excess registered deaths in England and Wales during the COVID-19 pandemic, March 2020 and April 2020

04/23/2020
by   Drew M Thomas, et al.
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Official counts of COVID-19 deaths have been criticized for potentially including people who did not die of COVID-19 but merely died with COVID-19. I address that potential problem by fitting a generalized additive model to past weekly provisional counts of all registered deaths in England and Wales. The model provides baseline estimates of the number of death registrations expected in the absence of the COVID-19 pandemic, and comparing the baselines to actual counts of recently registered deaths reveals the emergence of excess deaths late in March 2020. I estimate that, among people aged 45+, 610 ± 405 excess deaths were registered from 21 March through 27 March, 5689 ± 420 excess deaths from 28 March through 3 April, and 9374 ± 470 excess deaths from 4-10 April. Those estimates are larger than the ONS's respective counts of 531, 3432, and 6139 COVID-19-associated deaths, implying that the ONS's counts underestimate rather than overestimate the true death toll. The Department of Health and Social Care's counts of in-hospital COVID-19-associated deaths over the same period are even less, indicating that they are more severe undercounts. If underreporting rates have held steady, about 32,000 COVID-19 deaths might already have been registered but not publicly reported.

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