Excess winter deaths 27pc higher in second wave than during last bad flu season

·2 min read
Ambulances, Covid second wave - Alastair Grant/AP
Ambulances, Covid second wave - Alastair Grant/AP

Excess winter deaths during the second Covid wave in England and Wales were 27 per cent higher than the last bad flu year, the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show.

The ONS analysis revealed that there were 63,000 excess winter deaths in 2020/21 compared with 49,410 in 2017/18. Last winter saw the highest excess since the winter of 1967-68, when extra deaths peaked above 70,000.

The winter was particularly bad three years ago after the flu jab was mismatched against the most dominant strains, coupled with the Beast from the East storm bringing sub-zero temperatures.

This year's flu season is also predicted to be worse than usual because normal levels of surveillance were not carried out as labs turned their attention to Covid. There are also fears that a social distancing and mask-wearing have damaged the immune response to flu.

Covid leading cause of excess winter mortality in 2020-21

In the winter before the pandemic, there was very little flu, meaning excess deaths were historically low, with just 10,320 recorded – making deaths last winter six times higher.

Covid was the leading cause of excess winter mortality in 2020/21, accounting for 84.0 per cent in England and 82.9 per cent in Wales of all excess winter deaths.

In the winter of 2020/21, most excess winter deaths were in hospitals in England (36,500) and Wales (2,100), with 54.7 per cent and 39.1 per cent more deaths occurring in the winter than the non-winter months in England and Wales respectively.

The figures show that, for the 2020-21 winter period in England, daily deaths peaked on Jan 19, slightly later than in previous winters. The five-year average shows an increase in deaths normally occurs towards the beginning of January. In Wales, daily deaths peaked on Jan 11.

The number of excess winter deaths is a measure of the increase in mortality during December and March compared with non-winter months preceding August to November and following April to July.

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