Several major UK media outlets have reported that seven UK Covid-19 deaths had been announced as of Sunday, 11 April 2021.
This figure was featured by the Daily Mail newspaper on Monday, 12 April, alongside “calls to lift all curbs”, referencing the ongoing lockdown restrictions.
It is correct that seven deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test were announced by the government dashboard on Sunday, but this needs more context.
The number of reported Covid-19 deaths drops artificially over the weekend due to a reporting lag, and has done so throughout the pandemic.
It is important to note that this is just the number of deaths reported on this date, not the number of people who actually died.
The government also publishes the number of deaths within 28 days of a positive test by date of death. These numbers update each day as new deaths are reported. In some cases, it can take weeks or months for a Covid-19 death to be reported and added to this total
The dramatic drop in the number of reported deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test over the weekend is usually followed by a much higher total on Tuesday as the number of reported deaths catches up with the delay on Saturday and Sunday. For example, during the peak of the second wave, there were 1,610 deaths reported on Tuesday, 19 January. This was more than double the totals on the Sunday and Monday before it, on which 671 and 599 deaths were reported respectively.
The Nuffield Trust has described the cause of this reporting lag: “The hospital needs to validate that the death was Covid-19 related, and also inform relatives. This process can take a number of days, and is slower over the weekend.”
This delay in reporting over the weekend means it is often more helpful to look at the average number of deaths across a week, rather than just on specific days.
The average number of Covid-19 deaths reported over the seven-day period ending Sunday, 11 April, was 36. While deaths have been trending downwards since the peak of the second wave in January 2021, the most recent government data shows that deaths rose by 2.4% (an increase of six deaths) across the past seven days, compared to the previous seven days.
A number of media outlets said the death toll of seven was the lowest the UK had seen since 13 September, 2020, when five deaths were reported. This is correct, although 13 September also fell on a Sunday and so was affected by the same artificial drop. The seven-day average for daily deaths, from 7 September to 13 September, was 11.
The figure referred to here is the number of deaths within 28 days of a positive test by date reported..