Coronavirus: Warning over daily death figures

A man wearing a protective face mask walks past the entrance to the emergency room and emergency center to the Chelsea and Westminster hospital in central London on March 23, 2020.Image rights
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Experts warn against over-interpreting the daily numbers of people dying from the Covid 19 virus, as they often reflect reporting delays.

Peaks or dips can partially reflect bottlenecks in the reporting system and not real changes in the trend.

On Monday, 439 coronavirus deaths were registered in the UK – from 621 on Sunday and 708 on Saturday.

Many hospitals will not report deaths that occurred on weekends until the middle of the following week.

Over the weekend, NHS England released new numbers broken down by actual date of death.

And these show that between March 11 and April 1, there were about 300 more deaths than previously thought.

Prof. Jim Naismith of Oxford University said that due to "understandable" delays in reporting from NHS trusts, the daily numbers included deaths that could have occurred up to two weeks ago.

Separate numbers released last week also suggest that the number of people dying from coronavirus is higher than the daily total.

The National Statistics Office checked registrations and identified deaths in the community that were not included in the daily hospital deaths.

Still, there are some early promising signs that the virus is slowing as new confirmed cases drop from 4,450 to 3,802 between Friday and Monday.

The rate of increase in new cases has halved in the past week.

And this should slow down intensive care admission and eventually lead to death.

However, delays in reporting mean that we may not know about it for several days after it hits its high.

Different hospitals have different delays.

And that makes it a challenge to recognize the current trend.

Prof. Naismith said that daily data releases are good for transparency.

"The only downside to the government publishing data in this way is that it has become a scorecard for the media and a concerned public," he said.

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