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England had highest number of excess deaths in Europe during coronavirus pandemic, stats show

The ONS data comparison shows England had the worst excess mortality in Europe (PA)

4 min read

England has had the highest number of excess deaths in Europe during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new international comparison.

A report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveals Spain suffered the highest peak of additional mortality between February and mid-June across the continent.

But while England was in second it “did have the longest continuous period of excess mortality of any country compared”, the stats body said.

“This results in England having the highest levels of excess mortality in Europe for the period,” it added.

Excess mortality is the difference between the number of deaths in the current period and a past average, and the ONS said “the first half of 2020 saw extraordinary increases” across Western Europe compared to the five-year average due to Covid 19.

It has often been cited as the best measure of the impact of the disease on a country as other metrics are collated differently around the world.

The measure also takes into account the indirect impact of the virus, such as deaths from other causes that might be related to delayed access to healthcare.

The comparison data shows that, unlike countries like Italy and Spain, where there were severe spikes in infections limited to specific regions, the outbreak was spread across England in all areas.

The European region with the highest peak excess mortality was 847.7% in Bergamo, Northern Italy, in the week ending 20 March.

In comparison, the highest peak in a UK local authority was Brent at 357.5% int he week ending 17 April.

But England was worst hit overall because “excess mortality was seen in every local authority area during the peak weeks” between 3 April and 8 May.

Edwin Morgan from the ONS said: "Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the first half of 2020 saw extraordinary increases in mortality rates across countries in Western Europe above the 2015 to 2019 average.

"The highest peak excess mortality at national level was in Spain, with some local areas in Northern Italy and Central Spain having excess mortality levels as high as 847.7% of the average.

"While none of the four UK nations had a peak mortality level as high as Spain or the worst-hit local areas of Spain and Italy, excess mortality was geographically widespread throughout the UK during the pandemic, whereas it was more geographically localised in most countries of Western Europe.

"Combined with the relatively slow downward ‘tail’ of the pandemic in the UK, this meant that by the end of May, England had seen the highest overall relative excess mortality out of all the European countries compared."

In response Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “The official confirmation today that England has had the highest level of excess deaths in Europe is a devastating moment. 

“Every life lost is a tragedy and leaves behind grieving families.  We can no longer hide from the fact the Government has not handled this crisis well and needs to urgently learn lessons from its mistakes. 

Boris Johnson must now take responsibility for why we were so badly prepared. 

“As we start to see a resurgence in other parts of the world, ministers need to urgently outline the steps they are taking to better protect people and save lives in the months ahead.”

And the Liberal Democrats’ health spokesperson Munira Wilson said: "The unforgiving consequences of the pandemic have left too many families mourning loved ones. It didn't need to be like this. 

"It is clear the Government has made mistakes. With a possible second wave occurring in countries across Europe at the moment, the Prime Minister must launch an independent inquiry immediately."

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