8 charts that tell the story of the UK's grim COVID death toll

Matilda Long
·6 min read
The charts below tell the story of the UK's tragic COVID death toll. Hefin and Valerie Williams, bottom left, were a married couple who both died after testing positive for coronavirus. (PA Images/ SWNS)
The charts below tell the story of the UK's tragic COVID death toll. Hefin and Valerie Williams, bottom left, were a married couple who both died after testing positive for coronavirus. (PA Images/ SWNS)

The number of people who have died with coronavirus in the UK has surpassed 100,000.

The once unimaginable total was reached just less than a year after the first cases were officially confirmed in the UK, when a student and his mother tested positive while staying at a hotel in York in January 2020.

The UK was the fifth country to reach the tragic number, after the US, Brazil, Mexico and India.

While the pandemic has touched the lives of everyone in the UK, the risk of death is by no means equal.

Yahoo News UK has sifted through the data to tell the story of the UK’s battle against COVID.

1 How the death toll has added up

2 The daily death toll

The two charts above show the total and daily number of deaths in the four UK nations over the course of the pandemic.

The figures show deaths where COVID-19 has been mentioned on the death certificate, as opposed to the government’s daily figures, which show deaths within 28 days of a positive test for coronavirus. Deaths where COVID-19 is mentioned on the death certificate are considered to be a more reliable metric due to a lack of testing during the early part of the pandemic.

Deaths surged in the spring of 2020 as the virus first took hold and the true scale of the catastrophe facing the country became clear.

Hospitals were forced to cancel rafts of non-essential procedures to cope with the influx of coronavirus patients, and a monumental effort saw the construction of new Nightingale hospitals.

After the strict national lockdown was introduced on 23 March new cases began to tumble, with the number of deaths following a few weeks later.

Watch: Boris Johnson - 'We did everything we could to save lives'

As cases dropped still further during summer, with Brits making the most of the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme and being encouraged back to the office, the UK saw a low but steady number of daily COVID deaths.

However, the UK was soon in the grip of a deadly second wave of COVID-19. Cases began to trend steeply upwards in September, and deaths were soon back to tragically high levels.

Mass transmission, coupled with the new, more infectious variant of COVID-19, drove a steep spike in infections, and in January 2021 daily deaths crept back above 1,000.

3 The deadliest day

The most deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate on a single day occurred on Wednesday 8 April 2020. Less than three weeks into the first lockdown, some 1,457 people lost their lives.

Higher numbers than this have been reported in the government’s daily coronavirus figures. On 20 January 2021, the official death toll increased by 1,820. However that data refers to the number of deaths registered on a particular day, rather than the day each person died.

As the pandemic first spread across the world it soon emerged that the elderly were at far higher risk of becoming seriously ill and dying of COVID-19 compared to younger people.

4 The elderly hit hardest

The vast majority of coronavirus deaths in the UK have been people over the age of 75, accounting for almost three quarters of the total.

Some 41.89% of all deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate have been people aged 85 or over.

One of the key policies utilised by the government has been to advise those with health conditions that put them at heightened risk to shield.

Some 2 million people in the UK who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable were asked to stay at home without exception in the first national lockdown.

According to the Health Foundation, two thirds of those asked to shield were aged 60 or over, reflecting the fact that conditions that place people at risk, such as respiratory illness as cancer, are more prevalent in older people.

5 Where people are dying

With age being such a risk factor, it is perhaps no surprise that care homes have been hit with devastating outbreaks, with thousands of residents dying.

The chart above shows the % of all deaths in each setting and reveals that, across the UK, more than a quarter of deaths have taken place in care homes. Many more residents caught COVID-19 and then died in hospital, with care home residents making up a third of all deaths in total.

The majority of COVID-19 deaths have been in hospital, and around 5% have been in people’s homes.

At the start of the pandemic the government was criticised for allowing care home residents to leave hospitals without being tested and return to their homes - thus spreading the virus.

6 Deaths by ethnicity

Age is far from the only factor to determine a person’s risk from COVID-19 and one of the UK’s leading think tank, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, has warned that the crisis has exposed and aggravated our existing inequalities.

For example, In England, the mortality rate for deaths due to COVID-19 in December 2020 in the most deprived areas was more than 2.5 times the mortality rate in the least deprived areas.

In Wales, COVID-19 death rates in the most deprived areas was nearly twice the mortality rate in the least deprived areas.

Analysis of data for England and Wales by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also shows that people from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups have experienced higher death rates than white people.

The chart above shows how many deaths have occurred per 100,000 people, by ethnicity.

Analysis of COVID deaths in England and Wales, carried out in October 2020, found that males of black African ethnic background had the highest COVID-19 death rate – 2.7 times higher than males of White ethnic background. Data is not available for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Females of black Caribbean ethnic background had the highest death rate – 2.0 times higher than those of white ethnic background.

Commenting on the figures, Ben Humberstone, deputy director for health and life events at the ONS, said: “The report confirms that when adjusting for age, rates of death involving COVID-19 remain greater for most ethnic minority groups, and most notably so for people of Black African, Black Caribbean, Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnic background.

“Our statistical modelling shows that a large proportion of the difference in the risk of COVID-19 mortality between ethnic groups can be explained by demographic, geographical and socioeconomic factors, such as where you live or the occupation you’re in.

“It also found that although specific pre-existing conditions place people at greater risk of COVID-19 mortality generally, it does not explain the remaining ethnic background differences in mortality.”

7 The worst hit jobs (for men)

8 The worst hit jobs (for women)

Certain occupations have also been disproportionately affected.

Men working in processing plants, as security guards or as chefs had some of the highest COVID-19 death rates, ONS figures show.

Plant workers recorded a rate of 143.2 deaths per 100,000 males, compared with a rate of 31.4 among men of the same age in the wider population.

Among female workers, some of the highest COVID-19 deaths were for jobs involving assembly lines and routine machine operations, such as sewing machinists, as well as care workers and home carers.

Watch: Countries on the UK 'red list'