The current death toll of 32,375 is higher than any country in the world except the US, death toll has risen above 32,000 to overtake Italy and become the highest in Europe, according to new official figures.
This accounts for all cases mentioning Covid-19 on the death certificate, a figure that includes people who weren’t necessarily tested but had shown symptoms. When figures from Scotland (2,272 deaths as of 26 April) and Northern Ireland (393 up to 24 April) are included, the UK total rises to 32,375.
But experts say it could be months before full global comparisons can be made.Both Italy and the UK record the deaths of people who have tested positive for coronavirus, BBC head of statistics Robert Cuffe said, but Britain has reached this figure “faster” in its epidemic than Italy.
He said there are caveats in making such a comparison, including the UK population being about 10% larger than Italy’s, while Britain’s largest city is three times bigger than Italy’s.
Each country also has different testing regimes with Italy conducting more tests than the UK to date.In the last 24 hours, the UK government has recorded another 693 deaths.
A report from BBC heath correspondent says it is a sobering moment. Italy was the first part of Europe to see cases rise rapidly and the scenes of hospitals being overwhelmed was met with shock and disbelief.
But we should be careful how we interpret the figures. On the face of it both countries now count deaths in a similar way, including both in hospitals and the community.
But there are other factors to consider. First the UK has a slightly larger population. If you count cases per head of population, Italy still comes out worse – although only just.
Cases are confirmed by tests – and the amount of testing carried out varies. The geographical spread looks quite different too – half of the deaths in Italy have happened in Lombardy.
In the UK, by comparison, they have been much more spread out. Less than a fifth have happened in London, which has a similar population to Lombardy. Then, how do you factor in the indirect impact from things such as people not getting care for other conditions?
The fairest way to judge the impact in terms of fatalities is to look at excess mortality – the numbers dying above what would normally happen. You need to do this over time. It will be months, perhaps even years, before we can really say who has the highest death toll.
However, the same is true of the UK. Modelling by the Times, comparing daily Covid-19 hospital deaths to how many “excess deaths” have happened since the start of the outbreak, estimates that 55,700 people have died in the UK because of the outbreak. The model takes all excess death figures from UK statistics agencies.
England’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries said comparing death rates between countries is complex because of the different ways data is collected. She told the Health and Social Care Committee: “We will have to wait quite some time I think, until the end of this pandemic to do robust comparisons, and even then it will be extremely difficult.”