Officials are investigating whether the first coronavirus death may have occurred in the UK more than a month earlier than previously recorded.
The Office for National Statistics said it was looking int the death of a pensioner in Medway, Kent, at the end of January. Previously it was thought that the first Covid death in the UK happened on March 2.
The January death, of a man aged 80 to 84, has only just been registered by the coroner. The man died in hospital.
An explanatory note from the ONS published alongside its weekly mortality figures today said: “Previously, the first UK death involving Covid-19 was recorded as occurring on March 2nd.
“However, a death of a man aged 80-84 was registered in week ending 4 September 2020, which occurred in week ending 31 January 2020. We are reviewing the details of this registration.”
One expert said many more deaths might also have to be reviewed to see if they involve coronavirus in light of the Januaray case, which was revealed by the Sun earlier this month.
Professor Sheila Bird, formerly programme leader at MRC Biostatistics Unit, University of Cambridge, said: “On 27th August 2020, the coroner wrote to the family to inform them that his investigation into the death had concluded because the death was due to natural causes (Covid-19). It was left up to the family to register the death rather than information being immediately registered by the coroner with the Office for National Statistics as might be expected if the death had been subject to inquest.
“The 30-week delay between death-date and investigation-end-date for this, the earliest Covid-mention death in UK to date, is a desperate indictment. Moreover, although the original autopsy may have been timely (in February), there could have been a need to update the original autopsy report and findings in the light of the pandemic.“
She added: “This epidemiologically-important, and hugely-sad death for a grieving family, signals that there may be a need to review other autopsy findings from December 2019 to February 2020, especially when astute physicians, as in this case, were puzzled by their patient’s death.”
Today’s figures revealed there were 78 deaths involving Covid in England and Wales in the week to September 4, 23 fewer than the 101 announced last week.
However the fall – the lowest total since the start of the pandemic – is attributed to the week in question including the August bank holiday, when deaths are not registered.
The figures also show that the number of all deaths in private homes remains above average for this time of year – indicating the continued knock-on impact of the virus in discouraging people from seeking medical help for other conditions.
There were two Covid deaths in London in the most recent week – the lowest number since the pandemic began in March.
The regions with the greatest deaths were the South-East, with 17, and the North-West, with 13.
There were 2,329 deaths from all causes at home in the most recent week in England and Wales, including seven involving Covid – 143 more than the 2,186 average for this week.
The ONS figures, which lag behind NHS hospital mortality figures by 10 days, are likely to start increasing upwards in future weeks as the sharp rise in diagnosed cases – to about 3,000 new infections a day – starts to take its toll on those most at risk of dying from Covid, such as older people.
The total number of deaths from all causes in England and Wales in the most recent week was 7,739, 1,293 fewer than the previous week and almost 16 per cent lower than the five-year average.
A total of 41,637 people have died in the UK within 28 days of a positive Covid test, including 6,178 in London, according to the Government Covid dashboard.
This story is being updated.