Changing measures again

The England count for daily COVID-19 deaths changes again.

Anthony B. Masters


Public Health England published their review of the daily COVID-19 death measure. That review changed the measure to:

Deaths are only included if the deceased had had a positive test for COVID-19 and died within 28 days of the first positive test.

This article looks at the consequences of that change.

The total count reduces by over 5,000

Public Health England’s original measure had no time limit.

Someone could test positive for SARS-CoV-2 in March. After recovery, they die of unrelated causes in July. Since that person had a prior positive test, their unrelated death would count as a ‘COVID-19 death’. Public Health agencies in the rest of the UK would not count that as a ‘COVID-19 death’.

After their review, Public Health England introduced two new measures:

  • Death within 28 days: the death occurs within 28 days of the first lab test confirming SARS-CoV-2.
  • Death within 60 days, or COVID-19 on death certificate: the death is within 60 days of the first positive test. After 60 days, a death counts if the death certificate mentions COVID-19.

On 12th August 2020, the measures stood at:

  • No time limit: 42,072
  • Death within 60 days, or COVID-19 on death certificate: 40,404
  • Death within 28 days: 36,695
The difference became very large in recent days. (Image: Public Health England)

The 28-day measure is on the daily report. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control collects that UK measure. Our World in Data uses ECDC as its data source.

Applying the 28-day time limit means a reduction of 5,377 deaths (12.8%).

Over time, the 28-day measure fell by more than the count without a time limit. According to the daily report, the new England measure has been below 50 since 9th July. This is by date of report, not date of death.

Aligned with Scotland and Northern Ireland

The daily measure in England now aligns to Scotland and Northern Ireland.



Anthony B. Masters

This blog looks at the use of statistics in Britain and beyond. It is written by RSS Statistical Ambassador and Chartered Statistician @anthonybmasters.