A report by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has found that England sustained the longest period of above average death rates from coronavirus in the first half of 2020 anywhere in Europe.
England suffered the second highest peak death rate in Europe, after Spain, and is the worst-hit nation in terms of spread after it emerged that Scotland registered third highest death rate in Europe.
By the week ending May 29, the cumulative mortality rate in England was 7.55% higher than the average mortality rate in the period between 2015 to 2019.
Spain was ranked second at 6.65%, followed by Scotland (5.11%), Belgium (3.89%) and Wales (2.78%).
By June 12, that rate was 7.61% higher than the five-year average, which was the highest among 18 countries where data was available.
Edwin Morgan, from the ONS, said: ‘Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the first half of 2020 saw extraordinary increases in mortality rates across countries in Western Europe above the 2015 to 2019 average.
‘The highest peak excess mortality at national level was in Spain, with some local areas in Northern Italy and Central Spain having excess mortality levels as high as 847.7% of the average.
‘While none of the four UK nations had a peak mortality level as high as Spain or the worst-hit local areas of Spain and Italy, excess mortality was geographically widespread throughout the UK during the pandemic, whereas it was more geographically localised in most countries of Western Europe.
‘Combined with the relatively slow downward ‘tail’ of the pandemic in the UK, this meant that by the end of May, England had seen the highest overall relative excess mortality out of all the European countries compared.’
The findings are important because they are the first accurate measurement of coronavirus death rates internationally, allowing scientists to compare the UK’s own rate against the global average.
Health experts had warned against drawing comparison early on in the outbreak because countries measured their death tolls differently.
Now, the UK will finally understand whether the choices it made during those crucial days in March were the right ones.
Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said the findings were a ‘devastating moment’.
‘Every life lost is a tragedy and leaves behind grieving families,’ he said.
‘We can no longer hide from the fact the government has not handled this crisis well and needs to urgently learn lessons from its mistakes.
‘Boris Johnson must now take responsibility for why we were so badly prepared. As we start to see a resurgence in other parts of the world, ministers need to urgently outline the steps they are taking to better protect people and save lives in the months ahead.’
In terms of highest peak excess mortality by district, Bergamo in northern Italy came first with 847.7% in the week ending March 20 while Brent was the UK’s hardest hit local authority with its rate at 357.5% in the seven days up to April 17.
Birmingham was home to the UK’s most virus-ravaged city with its rate at 249.7%, also in the week ending April 17. Madrid, at 432.7% in the week ending March 27, was the worst hit city in Europe.