Covid fatality rate in England has plunged by almost 10%

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Covid’s death rate is lower than thought, official data suggests after nearly 600,000 reinfections were piled into the Government’s own tally.

Fatality rates from the coronavirus are up to 30 times lower now than during the devastating second wave, thanks to the build-up of natural immunity, a hugely successful vaccination drive and the milder nature of Omicron.

But the proportion of infected people who end up dying has fallen by another 10 per cent after last night’s update, according to MailOnline’s analysis. 

Just 0.23 per cent of all confirmed cases led to deaths in England before the long-awaited addition of reinfections, UK Health Security Agency statistics suggest. However, the rate for exactly the same time period — which relates to mid-January — has now dropped to 0.21 per cent because of the addition of extra cases. 

This is still slightly above flu, which has a case-fatality rate of around 0.1 per cent. But some experts claim the two figures are very similar, even if coronavirus is much more transmissible. 

Professor Paul Hunter, an expert in infectious diseases from the University of East Anglia, said reinfections were ‘almost always’ milder than primary infections.

He added: ‘Consequently, we can expect the severity of Covid to decrease further as more and more of the daily infections are reinfections.’

The above graph shows the case fatality rate — the proportion of Covid cases leading to deaths — by primary infection (red) and by both primary infections and reinfections (orange). It shows the CFR has dropped by about 10 per cent

The above graph shows the case fatality rate — the proportion of Covid cases leading to deaths — by primary infection (red) and by both primary infections and reinfections (orange). It shows the CFR has dropped by about 10 per cent

Since Omicron took hold at the start of December around six million positive cases have been reported

The number of Covid infections reported on the Government website is expected to soar today when reinfections are included for the first time. However, the update will reduce the case fatality rate (CFR) – the percentage out of all those cases that end in death – by a significant amount

MailOnline calculated the case fatality rate (CFR) — used by epidemiologists to check the severity of a disease —  by dividing the seven-day average of Covid cases by deaths two weeks later.

A lag was built in because of the time taken for someone who catches the virus to die from the disease. 

Latest data for January 12 — the latest date available to calculate the CFR — showed 91,955 people were testing positive for the first time every day, on average. 

At the same time, fatalities — defined as deaths within 28 days of a positive test — stood at roughly 213. 

Covid is not the underlying cause in 27% of deaths, figures show 

The proportion of Covid deaths where the virus is not the underlying cause is continuing to increase in England and Wales, official data showed today.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show there were 1,484 deaths involving the coronavirus registered in both countries during the week ending January 21.

Covid was not the primary reason in 27 per cent of cases — up from a figure just below 23 per cent towards the start of the month.

For comparison, the share of deaths not primarily due to the virus stood at around 16 per cent when Omicron first arrived in the UK. With the Alpha wave last January, before vaccines were dished out en masse, the proportion was about 10 per cent.

The rise of the milder Omicron strain has led to a similar pattern emerging in hospitals, where half of virus inpatients are not primarily needing treatment for the infection.

Critics have warned that the rise in so-called ‘incidental’ cases, driven by the sheer prevalence of Omicron, is skewing the Government’s daily coronavirus statistics.

It comes after the Government yesterday added re-infections to its daily stats dump for the first time, which put an extra 580,000 cases to the cumulative total.

The update means the case-death rate in the fourth wave has been even lower than initially thought and is up to 30 times lower than in the second wave this time last year.

But in last night’s update to include 588,114 reinfections since the pandemic began, the average number of cases for January 12 shot up by 10,000. This pushed the CFR down slightly from its previous level. 

Covid death numbers were not only those fatalities directly due to the virus, which likely would have pushed the CFR even lower. 

Covid reinfections were rare at the start of the pandemic because so few Britons had caught the virus due to lockdowns and stringent self-isolation rules.

The UKHSA — which defines reinfections as when someone tests positive for the virus more than 90 days after a previous positive swab — logged its first in June 2020, just four months into the pandemic. 

Reinfections accounted for less than two per cent of Covid cases — or one in 50 infections — during the Alpha and Delta waves that struck the UK.

But since the arrival of Omicron they have been ticking upwards, with the variant known to be better at evading previous immunity.

At the end of December reinfections made up about eight per cent of cases, but they are now behind more than 11 per cent.

Despite the rise, Professor Hunter said there was no sign that reinfections were changing the course of the current Omicron wave. He added that there was no need to impose further restrictions to tackle them. 

Experts said last night the addition of the figures could also be an early warning sign of waning immunity, helping officials determine when extra booster shots might be needed.

UK officials have already secured enough Covid doses to roll out fourth shots if needed in the coming months — and other countries including Israel have already launched revaccination campaigns. 

As well as the reinfections, UKHSA bosses also logged an additional 173,328 ‘formerly unreported’ cases.

The revision pushed up the UK’s official cumulative tally by 4.1 per cent to 14.8million confirmed cases since the pandemic began.

But only England and Northern Ireland are currently reporting reinfection figures. Scotland and Wales say they will also start to publish the statistics in the coming days. 

Britain has recorded 156,000 Covid deaths since March 2020. Other surveillance measures paint a similar picture.

The ONS — which counts fatalities by mentions of the virus on death certificates — says the toll stands at around 178,000.

But the proportion down to the virus is now pointing downwards, with latest Office for National Statistics figures showing one in five Covid fatalities (402 out of 1,484 deaths) were not due to the virus in the week to January 21.

For comparison, the share of deaths not primarily due to the virus stood at around 16 per cent when Omicron first arrived in the UK. With the Alpha wave last January, before vaccines were dished out en masse, the proportion was about 10 per cent. 

The proportion of ‘incidental’ Covid deaths where the virus was not the main cause has continued to increase to 27 per cent in England and Wales in the week ending January 21, Office for National Statistics data showed today

1,484 mentioned 'novel coronavirus' on the death certificate in the week ending January 21, an increase of 7.4 per cent on the previous week when 1,382 were recorded. But just 1,082 of those were primarily caused by the virus, with non-incidental Covid deaths only increasing by 1.1 per cent over the same period

1,484 mentioned ‘novel coronavirus’ on the death certificate in the week ending January 21, an increase of 7.4 per cent on the previous week when 1,382 were recorded. But just 1,082 of those were primarily caused by the virus, with non-incidental Covid deaths only increasing by 1.1 per cent over the same period

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