More than 200,000 people in the UK have had Covid-19 recorded on their death certificate since the pandemic began, new figures show.
The grim milestone comes as infections and hospital admissions are once again on the rise, driven by the coronavirus subvariant Omicron BA.2 – though the number of deaths remains well below levels reached in previous waves.
A total of 200,247 deaths involving coronavirus have now been registered in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
This includes all instances where Covid-19 has been mentioned on someone’s death certificate, either as a main cause of death or a contributory factor.
Campaigners from the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice called the figures “a tragedy” and “damning” evidence of the Government’s handling of the virus while charities urged more funding was needed for bereavement services.
The 200,000 mark was reached on June 25, but has only now been confirmed due to the time it takes for deaths to be registered.
Covid-19 deaths have remained low by historic standards during each of this year’s waves, reflecting the success of vaccines in weakening the link between infection and serious illness.
Analysis by the PA news agency of ONS data shows that the number of deaths involving coronavirus occurring in the UK each week has remained mostly below 1,000 since early last year, peaking between 1,000 and 2,000 whenever infections have jumped.
By contrast, during the wave caused by the Alpha variant in January 2021, the weekly figure peaked at nearly 10,000.
Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, said “the vast majority” of the 200,000 deaths “were preventable”, but they occurred because of “a series of policy failures at national level”, including the late implementation of lockdowns in March 2020 and a failure to step up restrictions over Christmas 2020 when the Alpha variant was spreading.
He added: “It’s important to remember that for every death there will be many more hospitalisations, long Covid, and other indirect burdens such as greater impact on other areas of the UK health service and socio-economic consequences such as bereavements and inability to work.
“Recorded Covid-19 deaths are the tip of a very unpleasant and far-reaching iceberg.”
Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the Labour Party, said the figures represented a “tragic milestone for our country and all those who have lost loved ones”, adding that the Covid-19 public inquiry “cannot begin its work soon enough – there can be no excuses for not ensuring ministers are held accountable for their decisions”.
The number of mentions of Covid-19 on death certificates has always been the most reliable and consistent measure of coronavirus mortality, as it not affected by factors such as reduced levels of testing, as happened in the early months of the pandemic.
It is now the only UK-wide measure of mortality.
An alternative method, based just on the number of people who died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, was discontinued recently after health authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland stopped reporting the figures.
Both authorities said changes in coronavirus testing policy earlier this year influenced their decision.
People with Covid-19 symptoms are no longer advised to test themselves regularly, while access to free tests is limited to only a small part of the population in all four nations.
This means that data based just on positive tests is not likely to reflect the true prevalence of coronavirus in the community or the real level of mortality.
Health authorities in England and Wales still report weekly figures showing the number of deaths within 28 days of a positive test, however.
Jo Goodman, co-founder of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign, called the 200,000 deaths “a tragedy” and “yet another damning milestone of the Government’s handling of the pandemic”.
She added: “454 people died within 28 days of a positive test from Covid just last week and yet the Government refuses to take even basic steps to protect people from the virus.
This release is based primarily on death registrations as these are not impacted by registration delays.
— Office for National Statistics (ONS) (@ONS) July 13, 2022
“By, for instance, making people pay for tests, not enforcing adequate sick pay or taking measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in hospitals, the Government is effectively throwing the most vulnerable in our society to the wolves.”
Around nine in 10 deaths with Covid-19 on the death certificate since the start of the pandemic have coronavirus as the primary cause of death, with a minority listing the virus as a contributory factor.
The sharp slowdown in deaths over the past 18 months is illustrated by the way it took just 61 days for the cumulative total to climb from 100,000 to 150,000, but a further 474 days to go from 150,000 to 200,000.
Analysis of ONS data by the PA also shows that:
– The highest number of deaths involving Covid-19 to occur on a single day was 1,489, on January 19 2021.
– During the first wave of the virus, the daily toll peaked at 1,461 on April 8 2020.
– A total of 94,998 deaths involving Covid-19 took place in the UK in 2020, compared with 82,200 in 2021 and 23,049 so far in 2022.
– The cumulative number of deaths involving coronavirus passed 50,000 on May 22 2020, reached 100,000 on January 6 2021 and 150,000 on March 8 2021.
Alison Penny, co-ordinator of the National Bereavement Alliance, said: “This terrible toll reminds us of the grieving families left behind in the wake of Covid-19.
“We all have a role to play in supporting our families, friends, neighbours, employees in their grief, but it’s been harder to do this during the pandemic, particularly during times of lockdown.
“Many bereaved people will also need organised support, such as meeting with others who have been bereaved, or talking with a counsellor. We are calling on the Government to invest in bereavement services for the long term, so that more people can get the help they need.”
Ruth Driscoll of the Marie Curie end-of-life charity said the “heartbreaking” figures meant “millions of people across the UK will be grieving the loss of loved ones, as lives continue to be cut short.”
She added: “The scale of loss people have faced over the last two years has made it more important than ever that those who have been bereaved can receive support from services if they need to – the Government must provide targeted funding in the areas with the longest waiting times.”