DEATH rates in Britain could already have returned to normal as coronavirus continues to fizzle out, an expert predicts.
Prof Carl Heneghan said he would expect to see zero excess deaths when figures from the Office of National Statistics are published next week.
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He said the trends suggest that by week 22 – which was last week – there would be no more deaths in England and Wales than there was in previous years.
The University of Oxford expert also believes there may be no coronavirus deaths nationwide by the end of the month.
But he warned this depends on health chiefs getting a grip on outbreaks in care homes.
His positive predictions come after the ONS published its latest deaths figures for England and Wales this morning.
It showed the weekly coronavirus death toll has plummeted by 1,221 in a week to its lowest level in almost two months.
There were 12,288 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending May 22, known as “Week 21”.
This was 2,285 less than the previous week but 2,348 more than usual for this time of year with the five year average being 9,940.
But the figures also revealed the true coronavirus death toll is nearer to 50,000 – 10,000 higher than the official tally.
Back to normal
At the peak of the pandemic in April, there were almost 12,000 excess deaths a week.
Prof Heneghan said: “If the trends continue, the deaths look like they will be back to where they should be normally by next week.
“There's been a continued reduction in hospital deaths, care home outbreaks are coming down, so all deaths by [week] 22, I'm expecting will be back to where we should be.
“The trend in the data suggests by the end of this month, we should be in a period where we are starting to see no deaths.
“But it also depends on what happens next. If we see outbreaks again in nursing homes, we'll see spikes in deaths again.
“And that's incredibly important because about half of nursing homes are not affected right now.
“This is an emergency to make sure they are protected and have the right level of testing to ensure none of the staff go in and transmit the disease to care homes that don't have outbreaks at the moment.”
Some 2,589 of the deaths recorded in England and Wales in the week ending May 22 mentioned Covid-19 – the lowest in seven weeks.
And the number of fatalities in hospitals are now 24 deaths lower than the five-year average.
In a sign the tide is slowly turning against coronavirus, the percentage of deaths involving the deadly bug continued to decrease across all English regions.
Out of all deaths involving the deadly bug in England and Wales, 64 per cent – 28,159 deaths – occurred in hospital, the ONS said.
Another 29 per cent were recorded in care homes with 5 per cent in private homes, 1 per cent in hospices, 0.4 per cent in other communal establishments, and 0.4 per cent elsewhere.
Key findings from the ONS
- The real death toll from coronavirus is about 10,000 above the official figure at nearly 50,000
- The number of coronavirus fatalities dropped to its lowest rate in seven weeks
- One in five deaths involved coronavirus in the week ending May 22
- 43,837 deaths involving coronavirus were registered in England and Wales between 28 December 2019 and 22 May 2020
- The South East recorded 409 fatalities, the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in that week
And the number of excess deaths in the UK since the coronavirus outbreak began is now just under 62,000.
Excess deaths is a count of deaths from all causes compared to what would have been expected at the same point in the year.
It comes after it was yesterday revealed almost half of hospital trusts in England have reported no coronavirus-related deaths over the past 48 hours.
The figures released on Monday show 65 hospital trusts (49.6 per cent) did not record a Covid-19 death over a 48-hour period.
Despite the optimistic figures, researchers warned death figures from the weekend always tend to be lower than on weekdays due a lag in reporting.
Extra deaths were also slipped into the government figures yesterday.
It comes after Brits have been warned that another lockdown could be put in place if there is a second spike in cases.
Yesterday marked a slight easing of lockdown restrictions, with gatherings of up to six people now permitted as long as social distancing guidelines are followed.
Rise in deaths of people with learning disabilities
More than twice the number of people with learning disabilities died over five weeks during the coronavirus pandemic compared to the same period last year, the care regulator has revealed today.
386 people with learning disabilities, some of whom may also be autistic, who were receiving care from services died between April 10 and May 15, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) said.
This is a 134 per cent rise compared with the same period in 2019, when 165 people with learning disabilities and/or autism who were receiving care died.
Kate Terroni, chief inspector of adult social care at the Care Quality Commission, said: "We already know that people with a learning disability are at an increased risk of respiratory illnesses, meaning that access to testing could be key to reducing infection and saving lives.
"These figures also show that the impact on this group of people is being felt at a younger age range than in the wider population – something that should be considered in decisions on testing of people of working age with a learning disability."
Edel Harris, chief executive of the learning disability charity Mencap, said the increase was "deeply troubling".
She said: "The devastating impact of Covid-19 on our community is shocking, but sadly not surprising, when we have long been warning that the healthcare rights of people with a learning disability are under threat like never before."
Speaking at yesterday's Downing Street press briefing, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "We are attempting to move the system from these national, blanket measures to a more targeted approach.
"This is why test and trace is such an important part of that.
"But we have always said that we are prepared to reintroduce measures – whether that is nationally or in response to a localised outbreak – if that is necessary."
The government has previously said that once systems to monitor new cases around the country are in place, regional lockdowns could be imposed to address localised outbreaks.
Under the new laws, police in England can now order Brits to leave friends' gardens – but they won't be allowed to remove people by force.
Critics say the rules could create confusion – for example, visitors can eat a barbecue cooked by someone from another household. But they're advised to bring their own chair to sit in.
It was previously revealed that sex in your own home with a person from another household is now illegal as a result of the new coronavirus regulations.
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