How will we know when Covid-19 deaths have peaked?

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Covid-19 case rates are now falling in most parts of the UK, suggesting that the lockdowns introduced across the country after Christmas are starting to have an impact.

But when are we likely to see a similar fall in the number of deaths?

The short answer is not for a while yet.

The number of patients in hospital with Covid-19 is still close to or above record levels in all areas of the country, and there are more patients in mechnical ventilation beds in the UK than at any point during the pandemic though hospital admissions in some regions are showing signs of levelling off.

This level of hospital activity means we are likely to see many more deaths reported in the next couple of weeks.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphic)

The answer is not until a week or so after it has happened.

To understand where we are in the overall shape of the second wave, we need to look at data for when deaths are taking place, not when deaths are being reported.

And this data takes time to be compiled.

A death can take anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks for it to be officially confirmed, notified and recorded.

This is why the number of reported deaths, the figure published each day by the Government, tends to jump around unpredictably, and is not a reliable real-time measure of how many people are dying.

On January 19 the Government reported a further 1,610 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19.

This was the highest total reported on a single day since the pandemic started.

But of these 1,610 deaths, 20% took place on January 18, 70% occurred between January 13 and 17, and the remaining 10% happened more than a week earlier (before January 13).

With this kind of lag between a death taking place and a death being reported, the overall size and shape of the second wave takes time to emerge.

At any given moment, we have only limited knowledge of where we are in the trajectory of the pandemic.

This is why we will not know we have reached the peak of the second wave until after it has happened – and we may have to wait at least a week for enough data to be reported so we can be sure the peak has been passed.

HEALTH Coronavirus Deaths
(PA graphic)

This could be revised upwards as more data comes in during the next few days.

But for now, it is slightly below the equivalent peak during the first wave, which was 1,073 deaths on April 8.

However the second wave looks likely to result in a greater volume of deaths overall.

In the month from March 23 2020, the date Boris Johnson announced the first UK-wide lockdown, to April 23, 23,504 Covid-19 deaths took place.

From Christmas Day 2020 up to January 14 2021, a period of just three weeks, we already know that 17,373 deaths took place, and this could rise further as more data is reported.

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