Reality Check

Coronavirus: Which regions have been worst hit?

Emergency Department sign Image copyright Getty Images

The South West has become the first region of England and Wales to see weekly deaths return to the range that would normally be expected, as the country continues to move beyond the worst weeks of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the latest figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the South West registered only 88 excess deaths in the week ending 22 May, compared to 807 excess deaths in the week ending 24 April.

Excess deaths refer to the number of registered deaths from all causes which are above the five-year average for that week of the year.

London, which was the epicentre of the pandemic in the UK, is also nearly back to normal levels. It recorded 215 excess deaths in the week ending 22 May (the ONS says nearly 90% mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate).

The week ending 17 April was the worst week in the capital, with over 2,200 excess deaths.

By the week ending 22 May, the North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, the West Midlands, the South East and the East of England all registered more excess deaths than the capital.

Covid-19 deaths

The same pattern can be seen with deaths specifically linked to Covid-19.

The week ending 22 May is the third week since coronavirus arrived in Britain in which London did not register the highest number of these deaths.

The South East had the highest weekly count, with 409 death certificates mentioning a confirmed or suspected case of the virus.

But every region of England and Wales has passed the peak of the pandemic.

London, the West Midlands, the North West and Wales recorded their peak in the week ending 17 April.

The South East, South West, East Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber regions all recorded their worst week of deaths in the week to 24 April.

Regions with a later peak have tended to see a more gradual decline in the number of excess deaths.

Worse than the Blitz

Looking back at London's figures, it recorded 21% of the total number of Covid-19 deaths in England and Wales until 1 May, despite having 15% of the population.

In fact, in the four weeks to 24 April, more people were killed by coronavirus in London than died during the worst four-week period of aerial bombing of the city during the Blitz in World War Two.

Registered deaths in London attributed to Covid-19, in those four weeks, reached 5,901 according to the ONS.

Whereas figures held in the National Archives, and collated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, show that 4,677 people were killed during the Blitz and buried in London cemeteries in the 28 days to 4 October 1940.

Image copyright Getty Images

"These are the best figures available for the civilian deaths in the Blitz," said Richard Overy, professor of history at the University of Exeter.

"This dramatic war on civilians has come to symbolise the horrors of total war, with the images of burning and ruined buildings and bodies dug out from the rubble."

"All the more poignant is the contrast with the current epidemic which killed considerably more people in 28 days in London's hospitals and care homes."

Most deprived areas

Separate ONS data released on 1 May shows that, once you take the age of population into account, the rate of deaths involving Covid-19 is roughly twice as high in the most deprived areas of England and Wales as in the least deprived.

"We know that people in more deprived areas are less likely to have jobs where they can work from home," said Helen Barnard from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

"This means they may have to face a very significant drop in income or keep going to work, facing greater risks of catching virus. They are also more likely to live in overcrowded homes, increasing the risk for whole families."

The data shows that the highest rates of deaths involving Covid-19 are in inner-city areas where lots of people live close together.

The majority of the highest age-standardised mortality rates are in London boroughs, such as Newham, Brent and Hackney.

Other factors

One of the biggest issues for policymakers over the coming weeks will be to try to establish what other factors may be causing the current surge in excess deaths.

Further deaths from Covid-19 will continue to happen despite the lockdown measures.

But it will also be vital to establish how many deaths may be happening because of the restrictions, if people are not getting the treatment or support they need for other health conditions.

Image copyright Getty Images

Other nations' figures

National Records Scotland releases figures on a slightly different timescale. In the week to 24 May, there were 1,125 deaths registered in Scotland. That's 11% higher than the five-year average for this week, of 1,017. Around a tenth of the death certificates mentioned Covid-19.

In Northern Ireland for the week ending 22 May there were 325 deaths registered, up from the five-year average of 290. Covid-19 was mentioned on 53 death certificates.

This piece has been updated to reflect the latest statistics.

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