The UK has recorded the highest coronavirus death rate in the world, according to new analysis, which indicated that Boris Johnson’s decision to lock down the country at a relatively late stage of the pandemic may have significantly influenced the number of Covid-19 deaths in the UK.
The UK has registered 59,537 more deaths than usual since mid-March, which represents a death rate of 891 people per million. Analysis by the Financial Times found that the figures mean the UK has a higher rate of death at this time of year for any country for which reliable data is available.
That means the total number of deaths in the UK is the second-highest in the world, behind only the US, where the death toll passed 100,000 on Thursday.
But the UK’s excess death rate is the highest in the world when adjusted for population, ahead of the US, Sweden, or Italy.
Excess death rates compare mortality figures this year against their five-year averages to determine how many more have died compared to what would be expected at this time of year.
The FT also found that countries which imposed lockdowns earlier to slow the spread of the virus generally had a significantly lower death rate than countries which didn’t.
Of the nineteen countries analysed, those such as Norway, Denmark, and Chile – which all imposed national lockdown measures when they had recorded relatively few coronavirus cases – all have a low excess death rate.
Countries which imposed lockdowns when Covid-19 infections had already spread significantly throughout the population, including the US, the UK, Spain, and Italy, all had significantly higher death rates.
Boris Johnson’s decision not to lock the country down earlier in March has come under intense scrutiny as the UK’s death toll continues to mount.
Restaurants and pubs remained open for much of the month, commuter trains were busy, and people attending sporting events and concerts as usual. The prime minister eventually imposed a full national lockdown on March 25, having asked people to avoid pubs and restaurants a week earlier.
But the delay in introducing a lockdown meant that over 1 million people became infected and likely contributed to the UK’s big death toll, a Sunday Times analysis found.
During that period, strict lockdown measures had already been introduced in Italy and Spain with bars, shops and restaurants closed, and people’s movements significantly restricted as their death tolls increased.
A study by Edge Health, a group which analysed NHS figures using data-modelling, linked a single football match between Liverpool and Atletico Madrid – attended by 3,000 Spanish fans – to 41 additional deaths in the days that followed.
The government’s decision to allow the annual Cheltenham Festival, a horse-racing event, was linked to an additional 37 deaths.
A Downing Street spokesperson told the Financial Times it was “wrong and premature to be drawing conclusions at this stage.”
“We will, of course, learn lessons from our response to this virus, but these must be drawn from an accurate international analysis in the future,” the spokesperson added.
The government in May stopped publishing a daily chart comparing the UK’s death toll to other countries and said that it wanted to vary the “content and format” of the charts it featured at press conferences.