Dying with and due to COVID-19

Most deceased people with a positive test die due to the disease.

A common question is: are people dying with COVID-19 or due to COVID-19?

In short

  • Up to 3rd August, 95% of these deaths had COVID-19 on the death certificate.
  • In England and Wales, about 9 in 10 registered deaths involving COVID-19 had the disease as the cause.

Counts and certificates

Public Health England analysed deaths where the person had a positive test result. This analysis was up to 3rd August 2020, excluding 1,438 deaths not linked to a death registration. 91% of the 40,160 deaths with a positive test result had COVID-19 mentioned on the death certificate. That means COVID-19 was either the cause or contributory factor to the death.

That proportion rises to 95% for deaths within 28 days of the first positive specimen date. That includes samples taken after death.

In total, 91% of confirmed deaths with COVID-19 had the disease listed on the registration. (Image: Public Health England)

Deaths within 28 days of a positive test result is the lead measure in England. Up to 3rd August 2020, about 1,700 people died with a positive test in that limit — but COVID-19 was not on the certificate.

The Office for National Statistics publishes death registration statistics. Medical certificates depend on clinical judgement, and do not need positive test results. For registrations up to 25th December 2020 in England and Wales:

  • Deaths involving COVID-19 (as the cause or contributory factor): 77,686
  • Deaths due to COVID-19 (as the underlying cause): 70,703
In most registrations involving the disease, COVID-19 is the underlying cause of death. (Image: Office for National Statistics)

About 9 in 10 registrations involving COVID-19 have the disease as its cause.

In their August analysis, Public Health England examined deaths within 28 days of a positive test result. 95% of these deaths had COVID-19 on the certificate. That means COVID-19 was a cause or contributory factor in the death.

In England and Wales, about 9 in 10 deaths involving COVID-19 have the disease as the cause. Most people who die with COVID-19 die due to the disease.

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

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