The UK now has the highest number of coronavirus-related deaths in Europe, after reporting more fatalities than Italy.

The Department of Health has announced a rise of 693 to 29,427, surpassing Italy’s latest official figure of 29,315.

But experts have urged caution when it comes to these numbers and who has the “worst death rate in Europe” as different countries record COVID-19 deaths differently.
There are also variations in population, demographics, population density, as well as how the authorities collect the figures.

As Professor David Spiegelhalter, a leading statistician at the University of Cambridge, pointed out to Sky News: “I think this kind of Eurovision contest between who is top and who is second in Europe is a completely, pretty fatuous operation.”

He added: “There are countries that have not done very well. That includes us. But trying to make these detailed comparisons is just impossible at this stage.”
While the Department of Health figures now include deaths in care homes and the wider community as well as hospitals, Italy does not have care home deaths in its total.
On one day last week, the UK fatality figure rose by 4,419 after non-hospital deaths that had tested positive for the virus were included. That figure contained 3,811 deaths in care homes and the community going back to early March.

Italy also has a higher proportion of over-65s (22%) in its population compared to the UK (17.9%), EU figures show. Older people are known to be at a higher risk from COVID-19. There are also fewer built-up areas in Italy which may be a factor in why the UK could have more deaths.

On Monday, analysis by statistics bureau ISTAT suggested Italy’s number of deaths is much higher than reported.
It pointed to thousands of fatalities that have never been officially attributed to COVID-19.

Of 25,354 “excess deaths” between 21 February and 31 March, coronavirus was registered by the civil protection agency as the official cause for 13,710. That left around 11,600 deaths unaccounted for.

In the UK, the Department of Health’s fatality figures only include people who have tested positive for COVID-19.

An alternative measure is from the Office for National Statistics, which is based on all mentions of COVID-19 on a death certificate, including suspected COVID-19.

The ONS has said 29,710 deaths involving COVID-19 were registered in England and Wales up to 2 May.

Together with the latest equivalent numbers for Scotland (2,272 deaths registered up to 26 April) and Northern Ireland (393 deaths registered up to 29 April), it means a total of 32,375 deaths involving COVID-19 have now been registered across the UK.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has dismissed international comparisons.
He said: “I don’t think we’ll get a real verdict on how well countries have done until the pandemic is over and particularly until we’ve got comprehensive international data on all cause of mortality.”
He added: “We now publish data that includes all deaths in all settings and not all countries do that so I’m not sure that the international comparison works unless you reliably know that all countries are measuring in the same way.
“And it also depends on how good frankly countries are at gathering their statistics and our own Office for National Statistics is widely acknowledged as a world leader.”

Meanwhile, the fatality figure in France, also among the worst-hit European countries, does include deaths in hospitals and care homes but not deaths in the wider community.
Late last month, the French union of general practitioners estimated there had been 9,000 coronavirus deaths in the home since the epidemic began, based on a survey of its members.

And in Spain, another badly-hit nation, the figure for deaths does not included those people who were more than likely killed by the virus but never tested.
Ministers dislike comparisons of the headline fatality figure, saying that excess mortality – the number of deaths from all causes that exceed the average for the time of year – is a more meaningful metric.

Sky News analysis has found that England is among the European countries with the highest number of “excess deaths” during the pandemic.
An alternative comparison is to look at the total number of COVID-19 deaths per million people.
This puts the UK in fourth place on 423 behind Belgium (683), Spain (543) and Italy (480).

Belgium is counting deaths in hospitals and care homes, but is also including deaths in care homes that are suspected, but not confirmed, as COVID-19 infections.
Professor David Spiegelhalter noted: “Poor Belgium which is top of the league table in terms of deaths per million.
“My understanding is that half their deaths are people in care homes who have not even been tested, and those deaths would not even count in our daily figures at all in the UK.
“So it’s only later on when we can look at death registrations, or not even people who have got COVID on their death registrations, when we can look at the total number of additional deaths that there have been in the country over this period.
“And that I think it’s the only time we can start making comparisons between countries about what has been the total impact on their society.”

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