Total deaths in the UK in 2020 have now risen above the deaths during the same period in 2018

24 April 2020
What was claimed

There were fewer deaths recorded in the first 15 weeks of 2020 than in the first 15 weeks of 2018.

Our verdict

Correct, although the number of deaths in recent weeks far exceeds the number at the same point in any recent year.

Update: This article was originally published on 24 April, and referred to data from just the first 15 weeks of the year (as did the claim that we were checking).

As we suggested was likely to happen, the week after this article was published, the total deaths registered in England and Wales in 2020 overtook the total deaths by the same point in 2018. After 16 weeks, 207,301 deaths had been registered in 2020, compared with 198,943 after 16 weeks of 2018.

At the time of this update, figures for the first 17 weeks of 2020 show that 229,294 deaths were registered, compared with 209,249 people in the first 17 weeks of 2018. 

The original article text follows below.

A Facebook post compared the deaths recorded by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) so far in 2020 with the deaths in 2018. Some readers have asked us to look into this as well.

The Facebook post says that “UK currently to date including today 22 April has exactly 2,760 ‘LESS’ deaths than the exact same period weeks 1-15 in 2018”. The user said that the data came from the website of the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

These numbers refer to deaths in England and Wales, not the whole UK. Also, they were the latest ONS figures available on 22 April, but they only include deaths registered until 10 April. Otherwise, the figures are correct.

Looking at just the last two weeks of data, the number of deaths is far above what it was in any of the past five years.  

Have many people died in 2020 compared to 2018?

The number of people who die varies from year to year. The winter months usually see more deaths, but as it happens – perhaps because of the mild winter this year – 2020 saw relatively few deaths in the months before the Covid-19 outbreak started.

There were 138,916 deaths registered in the first 12 weeks of the year. That’s slightly above 2019 and 2016 but quite a bit below 2015, 2017 and 2018.

Then the number of deaths registered in week 13 of 2020 rose above the number in any of the five previous years. Deaths continued to increase very sharply in weeks 14 and 15.

By the end of week 15, the total for 2020 had already risen above the totals in any of the past five years, except 2018.

weekly deaths by yearWhat about 2018?

Even though the total number of deaths registered in the first 15 weeks of this year (184,960) is still a bit lower than it was in 2018 (187,720), that doesn’t mean that 2020 is an ordinary year.

It is likely that the total for 2020 so far will overtake the comparable 2018 figure in the coming weeks.

Correction 25 April 2020

This article has been changed to correct the numbers inside the brackets in the penultimate paragraph.

Update 6 May 2020

This article was updated to include figures from the two subsequent weeks.

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