Thousands of coronavirus deaths recorded by ONS not due to Covid, new figures show

The ONS released new data comparing deaths from Covid in England and Wales with those from influenza and pneumonia - Daniel Leal-Olivas / AFP
Thousands of coronavirus deaths recorded by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) were not due to Covid, new figures show.
On Thursday, the ONS released data comparing deaths from Covid in England and Wales with those from influenza and pneumonia by the end of August.
To make the comparison, the agency published numbers for the first time for people who had died "because of" Covid, and not for people whose virus was listed on their death certificate.
While official figures show 52,327 people had died of coronavirus by the end of August, 48,168 deaths were "disease related" - 4,149 fewer than official records show.
At the start of the pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that death should not be included in the numbers, even if the coronavirus is listed as a "major condition" on a death certificate. According to WHO guidelines, such deaths "are not due to Covid-19 and should not be classified as such".
The new numbers support research by scientists at the Center for Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford University who found last month that coronavirus was not the leading cause of death for nearly a third of registered Covid-19 victims in July and August.
The team uncovered the discrepancy after comparing deaths from all causes with coronavirus numbers. Their analysis found that around 30 percent of the people involved in the coronavirus death toll during the summer months had died of other reasons.
This means that someone who has had a heart attack or even died in a traffic accident may have been included in the numbers if they also tested positive for coronavirus at some point, or if doctors believed the virus made their condition worse.
Experts at Oxford fear the overcount problem will worsen as more people in the population develop coronavirus. They fear that thousands more people died at the peak due to the pandemic than due to the virus and were incorrectly included in the Covid-19 statistics.
The new ONS figures also show that Covid was almost four times more deadly than flu and pneumonia, with 48,168 deaths between January and August, compared with 13,619 for pneumonia and 394 deaths from influenza.
But the numbers also showed that deaths from flu and pneumonia were nearly 3,500 lower than what would normally be expected on a five-year average, suggesting that some people died from Covid instead (the graph below shows how flu and Covid-19 compare ). .
Sarah Caul, Head of Mortality Analysis at ONS, said: "More than three times as many deaths were recorded between January and August of this year, with Covid-19 being the underlying cause compared to influenza and pneumonia. The mortality rate for Covid-19 is both for 2020 and for the five-year average significantly higher than the influenza and pneumonia rates.
"Since 1959, when the ONS monthly death certificates began, the number of deaths from influenza and pneumonia in the first eight months of each year has been lower than the number of Covid-19 deaths in 2020."
Professor Rowland Kao, Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology and Data Science at the University of Edinburgh, said: "The significantly higher number of deaths attributed to Covid-19 shows that Covid-19 is currently at greater risk to humans than influenza - in some ways To a large extent, this is due to the fact that we have a flu vaccine that is given to people at high risk of serious illness / morbidity and mortality, while this is of course not the case with Covid-19.
"In addition, Covid-19 is new to us, while we would expect some immunity between the years of seasonal flu - very different depending on the degree of antigen drift. Therefore, these data are fully in line with our expectations."

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