LONDON (Reuters) – The United Kingdom suffered the highest rate of excess deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic in a comparison of 21 European countries, an analysis from Britain’s statistics office showed on Thursday.
Epidemiologists say excess mortality – deaths from all causes that exceed the five-year average for the time of year – is the best way of gauging deaths from a disease outbreak because it is internationally comparable.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) analysis confirmed Britain’s place as one of the countries worst hit by a pandemic that has killed more than 666,000 people worldwide.
Around 65,000 more people than usual have died from all causes across the United Kingdom so far this year, the highest total in Europe.
Thursday’s figures showed the United Kingdom also had Europe’s highest excess death rate when adjusted for the size and age of its population.
The ONS said the excess deaths were spread throughout the United Kingdom, in contrast to many European countries where they were concentrated in particular regions.
Even so, England had a noticeably higher death rate than Scotland, which in turn had higher death rates than Wales and Northern Ireland
Spain recorded a higher peak of excess deaths but the slower decline of deaths in Britain following its own coronavirus peak made for a worse picture overall, the report – based on age-standardised data – showed.
“This meant that by the end of May, England had seen the highest overall relative excess mortality out of all the European countries compared,” ONS statistician Edward Morgan said.
The large death toll has prompted criticism of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s handling of the pandemic, with opposition parties and some scientists saying Britain was too slow to impose a lockdown or protect the elderly in care homes.
Johnson has said his government followed the science but that there would be lessons to learn.