April 29, 2020 / 5:10 PM / a month ago

UK will have to wait for excess death statistics for clearer COVID-19 picture: health official

LONDON (Reuters) - Figures for the number of excess deaths in Britain as a result of the coronavirus crisis will provide a clearer picture of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic but might not be available for a while, England’s deputy Chief Medical Officer said on Wednesday.

Early evidence for “excess deaths” - the number of deaths from all causes that exceed the average for the time of year - suggest Britain has fared poorly in comparison to many other countries.

Although it takes a long time to form a full picture, academics prefer this measure to gauge the impact of an epidemic and the measures taken by countries to control it, since it is easier to compare across countries.

“In time, we’ll have a much better answer when we start to look at excess mortality as a total, which will take into account both deaths related to COVID-19, and deaths that may have occurred, not due to COVID-19 at all, but as a consequence of the crisis. And some of those will take time to come through,” Jonathan Van-Tam said at a news conference.

Public Health England medical director Yvonne Doyle said that Britain’s death total, which from Wednesday includes care homes, may be revised further upwards to reflect patients with COVID-19 on their death certificate but who were never tested for the disease.

Reporting by David Milliken, Paul Sandle and Andy Bruce, writing by Alistair Smout; editing by Stephen Addison

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