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Government agrees new method for recording Covid-19 deaths

As Imperial College London publishes the results of antibody testing programme for coronavirus

The government has agreed a new UK-wide methodology for recording the number of deaths from Covid-19.

This follows concerns that the numbers were reported in England without a cut-off point for people who tested positive for Covid-19 at any time—thereby possibly overstating them—which led to daily updates on the number of deaths to be paused in mid-July and a review launched.

The UK’s four chief medical officers have now recommended that a single, consistent measure be adopted for daily reporting of deaths across the UK in light of the review, which was conducted by Public Health England.

“The way we count deaths in people with Covid-19 in England was originally chosen to avoid underestimating deaths caused by the virus in the early stages of the pandemic,” said John Newton, director of health improvement at PHE.

“Our analysis of the long-term impact of the infection now allows us to move to new methods, which will give us crucial information about both recent trends and overall mortality burden due to Covid-19.”

Under the new system, the UK government and the devolved administrations have agreed to publish the number of deaths that occurred within 28 days of a positive lab-confirmed Covid-19 test result on a daily basis, the Department of Health and Social Care announced on 12 August.

PHE analysed how likely it was that Covid-19 was a contributory factor to a death at different points in time after a positive test.

According to that analysis, 96 per cent of deaths occurred within 60 days with 88 per cent of deaths occurring within 28 days. On 12 August, the number of deaths in patients testing positive for the virus in the UK within the past 28 days was 41,329.

Meanwhile, Imperial College London has published the results of its antibody testing programme for coronavirus, which included over 100,000 volunteers.

According to the results, 3.4 million people—6 per cent of the population—had already been infected by Covid-19 by 13 July 2020, with variations across the country.