THERE have been almost 62,000 deaths above what would normally be expected in the UK during the coronavirus outbreak, while deaths involving Covid-19 continue to fall.

There were 56,308 excess deaths in England and Wales between March 21 and May 22, compared with the average number of deaths for that period over five years, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

It follows figures last week showing the equivalent numbers for Scotland and Northern Ireland, which, when added together, take the total number of excess deaths in the UK across this period to 61,795.

In England and Wales, Covid-19 was responsible for 77% of these excess deaths.

All figures are based on death registrations.

Tuesday’s ONS release takes number of deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK to just under 50,000.

Death registrations in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland show 48,896 deaths in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, including suspected cases.

A further 819 hospital patients in England who had tested positive for Covid-19 died between May 23 and 31, according to figures published on Monday by NHS England, indicating the overall death toll for the UK is now just over 49,700.

The UK death toll is the highest in Europe and second highest in the world, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University of Medicine.

It comes as the number of weekly deaths involving coronavirus in England and Wales fell by almost a third in a week and reached its lowest level for seven weeks.

There were 2589 deaths involving coronavirus in England and Wales registered in the week ending May 22, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

This is down 32% from the previous seven days, with 3,810 deaths involving coronavirus registered in the week ending May 15.

Asked during a Science Media Centre briefing whether he expects deaths from Covid-19 to stop or plateau, Professor Carl Heneghan said: “There’s been a continued reduction in hospital deaths, care home outbreaks are coming down so the ‘all deaths’ by (week) 22 I’m expecting will be back to where we should be.

“The trend in the data suggests by the end of this month we should be in a period where we’re starting to see no (Covid-19) deaths. But it also depends on what happens next, within sporadic outbreaks.”

He warned that there will be spikes in deaths with further outbreaks in care homes, and said information on how many people are catching the virus in hospital would “give us a really good understanding of the spreading of this disease”.

Professor Kevin McConway, Emeritus Professor of Applied Statistics at The Open University, said: “I certainly don’t want to be a prophet of gloom, but I would urge some caution about these positive trends.

“The new week’s data would not yet have been affected by the loosening of the lockdown. That began to happen in the previous week (ending May 15), though most changes occurred much more recently.

“If any of the changes turn out to have increased infections, that won’t show up in death statistics yet anyway, because obviously there is a time gap between infection and death. But we’ll see eventually.”

The ONS said there were 12,288 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending May 22 – a drop of 2,285 from the previous week but still 2,348 more than the five-year average.

There were 1,289 excess deaths in care homes during the seven days, compared with the five-year average, and 24 fewer deaths in hospitals.

Prof McConway continued: “We’ve got to remember that, in this latest week of data, deaths are still running at a considerably higher level than they normally would, but the excess deaths are far below their peak level of almost 12,000 a week in mid-April.”

Of all deaths registered by May 22, 43,837 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate – 15.3% of all deaths.

Detailed analysis on non-Covid-19 deaths will be published by the ONS on Friday.

Statisticians told the Science Media Centre briefing that the five-year average does not fully account for population and age trends and therefore non-Covid-19 excess deaths could be overestimated using this measure.

Asked if he felt calculating excess deaths based on the five-year average is not a reliable measure for the impact of the pandemic, Prof Heneghan said: “Yeah, I think just taking a basic sum of five years and then trying to project the difference to the average of five years, doesn’t take into (account) the nuances of some of the changes over time in the data.

Out of all deaths involving Covid-19 in England and Wales registered up to May 22 2020, 64% (28,159 deaths) occurred in hospital, the ONS said.

A further 29% (12,739 deaths) took place in care homes, with 5% (1,991) in private homes, 1% (582) in hospices, 0.4% (197) in other communal establishments, and 0.4% (169) elsewhere.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Every death from this virus is a tragedy and our deepest sympathies go out to everyone who has sadly lost loved ones.

“It has always been a priority to support the social care sector throughout this pandemic and we are working hard to make sure they have the equipment and support they need to tackle the virus.”