LONDON – England has had the highest rate of over-deaths of any country in Europe during the coronavirus pandemic, with an increase that lasted longer and spread to more countries than those in hard-hit nations like Italy and Spain, according to a government report released Thursday.
The findings, in a report by the British Office for National Statistics, painted a bleak picture of how Britain – and especially England – overcame the first wave of the pandemic. They came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson noted the battles of other countries in controlling new infections by moving to put more of them under a travel quarantine.
Critics said that Mr. Johnson was trying to divert attention from his initial dilated response to the pandemic, which they said had left the country as sensitive to a resurgence as its neighbors.
When the number of British deaths from the first virus exceeded those of other European countries in May, Mr. Johnson argued that comparisons from one country to another were disobedient because governments collect and analyze data differently.
But the statistics office said it avoided those pitfalls by examining mortality rates across Europe from all causes – not just those attributed to Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus – from January to June, and then comparing them. those with average figures from 2015 to 2019.
This takes into account Covid-19 deaths that were not labeled as such, and indirect pandemic-related deaths, such as those from lack of access to hospitals during closures. Demographers believe that tracking excessive mortality is the most accurate measure of deaths during a pandemic.
There are some key holes in the data, not just the lack of statistics from Germany, the most populous country in Western Europe and the one that has functioned better than most in keeping down infections and deaths.
The report also does not provide the raw number of surplus deaths for each country, but rather a relative measure of the death rate above the historical average, adjusted for factors such as age differences.
The Bureau of Statistics has separately estimated that the UK suffered 55,763 excessive deaths from 14 March, when the virus began circulating in the country, until 17 July. A New York Times analysis puts the death toll in Britain at 62,600 for the same period, by far the most in Europe and a 31 per cent increase in mortality for that time of year.
The British report confirms disturbing images of overcrowded hospitals in Italy and Spain in March and April. At their peak, deaths in parts of Spain and Italy rose more than anywhere else in Britain, reaching 9½ times the usual mid-March rate in Bergamo, Northern Italy, an early epicenter.
In England, where local increases were not so great, the biggest jump was in the 4 biggest times most common in mid-April in Brent, a London borough. Birmingham had the highest peak for a large British city, with 3½ times more than the average of recent years.
But the death toll for Britain as a whole had risen longer than in Spain or Italy, and the rise spread to every corner of the country.
“Excess mortality was geographically prevalent throughout the UK during the pandemic, while it was more geographically localized in most Western European countries,” said Edward Morgan, an expert in health analysis and life events at the Office for National Statistics. .
For most European countries, the death rate spirals into late March and early April. During the last week of March, the worst in all of Europe with 33,000 excess deaths, Spain alone recorded over 12,500 more deaths than would be expected when compared to data from 2016 to 2019, and Italy over 6,500 more, according to a second study, by the French national statistics agency, INSEE.
All shown, Italy reported 35,112 deaths from Covid-19 and Spain reported 28,441, but the Times analysis puts excessive deaths at more than 44,000 in each of those countries.
The British report focused mainly on England rather than across the UK because, as he said, the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland administer their own health policies, often with varying results. England, the largest part of Britain, has recorded sharper increases in the death rate during the pandemic than others.
Public health experts have attributed much of Britain to the time of Mr’s blockade. Johnson, who came a week after those in Italy and Spain. The government abandoned a mass testing and contact tracking program in early March, depriving it of data on how quickly the virus had circulated in the population.
Messages from Mr. Johnson may have played an unintentional role. Concerned about overtaking the National Health Service, as hospitals had been in Italy, the Prime Minister called on people to “stay home” and “Protect the NHS”
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The British public took it to heart and hospitals coped well with the flood of patients, one of the few bright spots of the pandemic. But experts said some sick people who should have gone to the hospital stayed home – and at least some of them died of cancer, heart disease or other illnesses.
“Protect the NHS was interpreted as ‘Stay away from the NHS,'” said Devi Sridhar, chair of the global public health program at the University of Edinburgh.
That could help explain one of the intriguing inequalities in the report, she said. She showed that in London, which was hit hard by the virus, there was little difference in the excessive death rate for people over 65 and those under 65.
Indeed, in Madrid and Barcelona, there is a large disparity between those over 65 and the rest of the population, which is consistent with a disease that is most deadly to the elderly. Manchester and Birmingham also showed an age inequality, albeit somewhat less pronounced.
Professor Sridhar argued that England should adopt a policy of directing new infections to zero, similar to that of the government in Scotland. With such a policy in place, she said, it would make sense for the government to control incoming passengers and impose strict quarantines where needed.
“Otherwise,” she said, “given the high level of community issues, it could be seen as the prelude to a second wave in Europe.”
Last weekend, British officials added Spain to a list of places from which travelers must be isolated for 14 days. Now they are monitoring France, Belgium and Croatia, where there have been new outbreaks. Mr Johnson said he was determined to stop a second wave of infections imported by British holidaymakers.
The rapidly changing policy has played destructive with the holiday plans of thousands of people and has drawn criticism from the Spanish government and the flag of tourism businesses.
“We think it’s a big deviation from the government’s failure to address this in a more reasonable way,” said Steven Freudmann, chairman of the Travel and Tourism Institute, an industry lobbying group. “The risk is actually greater staying home than going to many of these places.”
Elian Peltier contributed reporting.