You asked

In July 2020 it was stated an urgent review was to be carried out into the Covid deaths data. It was stated that the way the data was captured was incorrect and likely the number of deaths was rather inflated.

I would like to know what the update is and what are the true figures for deaths solely from Covid, as opposed to it being in a persons system at the time of their deaths regardless of cause of death.

We said

Thank you for your enquiry.

ONS' and Public Health England's (PHE) COVID-19 deaths data are produced in different ways and have different purposes:

  • The daily COVID-19 death counts reported on the government's COVID-19 dashboard (produced by PHE) shows deaths within 28 days of a first positive laboratory-confirmed test.

  • ONS weekly death registrations data for England and Wales, relate to the week that ended 11 days prior and are based on the cause of death reported on the death certificate, thereby not restricted to only deaths that showed a positive test.

In August 2020 PHE changed the definition they used to calculate deaths of people in England who died at any point following a positive test, regardless of cause of death. The new definition moved from those who died within 60 days of a positive test to reporting deaths with a cut-off of 28 days after a positive test and brought England in line with devolved nations reporting. The recalculation by PHE meant they removed 5,000 deaths, as these tested positive after the new 28 day cut off. As ONS reports COVID deaths based on information from the death certificate and we do not report deaths with only a positive confirmed test, the change in definition by PHE did not impact our recording of COVID-19 deaths

More information can be found in a  blog by Professor John Newton of Public Health England about the complexities of counting COVID-19 deaths and the different methods used.

The following table provides totals to the weekly figures of deaths due to COVID-19 and deaths involving COVID-19. This has been extracted from the downloadable dataset beneath Figure 2 of Deaths Registered Weekly in England and Wales.

We use the term "due to COVID-19"  when referring only to deaths where that illness was recorded as the underlying cause of death, which is when it is either the only health condition mentioned on the death certificate, or it was the one that started the train of events leading to death.

We use the term "involving COVID-19" or "involving Influenza and Pneumonia" when referring to deaths that had that illness mentioned anywhere on the death certificate, whether as an underlying cause or not.

We were also producing Deaths involving COVID-19, England and Wales in the response to COVID-19. This publication provides a greater insight into the leading underlying causes of death groups for deaths occurring in England and Wales between March and June 2020, including deaths from COVID-19 where there were 'no pre-existing conditions'.

We define a pre-existing condition here as the last health condition mentioned on the first part of the death certificate when it came before the coronavirus (COVID-19) or was an independent contributory factor in the death, mentioned in part II. Where only COVID-19 was recorded on the death certificate, or COVID-19 and subsequent conditions caused by COVID-19 were recorded, we refer to these deaths as having "No pre-existing conditions".

This publication was paused in the summer of 2020 due to the decrease in the number of deaths. However, owing to public demand, we have been reassessing the possibility of resuming this publication.

We have now reached a decision, and we plan to include the analysis referenced in your request in our Deaths registered monthly in England and Wales publication, starting from 26 February 2021.

As part of these plans we will update the information we have already published. This is because the deaths in the tables you cited are based on the date a death occurred and not on the date a death was registered. This will enable us to include any deaths that occurred before July 2020, but had not yet been registered by the time we published the last update for Deaths involving COVID-19, England and Wales.