UK Corona Virus Deaths in Context

Yesterday, April 2nd 2020, 684 people died from COVID-19 in UK hospitals.

But when we look back at 2020, we will see that the number of people dying in the UK was not significantly different from any other year. 


Yes Really. The graph below shows the number of recorded deaths in the UK from 1890 to 2018.

Slide2I was surprised by this number being so relatively constant (around 600,000) over this long period despite the doubling of the UK population (shown against the right-hand axis).

A reasonable estimate of the worst-case outcome of the pandemic, is that 20,000 people will die from COVID-19 in the UK this year.  I have shown the effect of this on the graph above. The detail shown in the green box is re-drawn below.


The year-to-year variability over the period 2018 to 1990 is approximately ±11,000 deaths, and year-to-year variations in annual deaths of between 20,000 and 30,000 are common. See for example the 32,000 “extra deaths” in 2015 compared with 2014.

Fitting a trend line to the data from 2011 to 2018 we can estimate what would have been the likely number of deaths in 2020, and then see the effect of an additional 20,000 deaths. These are shown as two filled red dots.

So as I said at the start, when we look back at 2020, we will see that the number of people dying in the UK was not significantly different from any other year. 

But if that’s the case why all the fuss?

I am writing this because according to many media, the death of 20,000 people from COVID-19 represents a national failure. I disagree.

The actions we have already taken, and the tens of billions of pounds we have collectively spent, have already saved the lives of thousands – and probably tens of thousands – of people.

If we had not acted, then we would be looking at excess deaths on the order of hundreds of thousands of people –  as seen in the 1919 ‘Spanish Flu’ – or even more.

What next?

Based on my crude analysis, and assuming the “lock-down” has been very effective, then I expect the number of deaths per day to rise until approximately 11th April 2020.

The New York Times Tracker below shows that the UK’s ‘death curve’ is similar to Italy’s and so the final toll – which will not be reached until the end of April – looks like being close to, but slightly less than 20,000. Better outcomes are still possible.

Until then, I urge you to Keep Calm and Carry On.

CV Deaths in context

Data Sources




2 Responses to “UK Corona Virus Deaths in Context”

  1. abc Says:

    Very interesting read. It puts things in context/perspective.
    However, I remember reading an article where deaths in Italy (especially in North Italy) have been way higher than in the last few years!

  2. crystaltwinconsulting Says:

    Scary times. Hope you are keeping safe and well. Let’s hope we’ve moved fast
    enough to slow the spread down. Xx

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