New analysis from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has found that England had the highest levels of excess mortality in Europe across the first half of 2020. 

A comparison of 23 European countries found that the country experienced the longest continuous period of excess deaths as well as the highest levels.

Scotland was third in the levels of excess mortality rates behind England and Spain.

It is the first time the ONS has compared mortality rates in different countries to measure the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

By the week ending May 29, England had a relative cumulative age-standardised mortality rate of 7.55% – meaning it was 7.55% higher than the average mortality rate between 2015 and 2019.

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Spain ranked second at 6.65%, followed by Scotland (5.11%), Belgium (3.89%) and Wales (2.78%).

England still had the highest cumulative excess deaths rate two weeks later, by the week ending June 12, though at this point there was only data available on 17 other countries to compare it with.

From February 14 to the week ending June 12, England experienced the second highest peak of excess deaths, after Spain, out of 21 countries with data available.

Every local authority area in the UK experienced excess mortality between the weeks ending April 3 and May 8, while other countries in Western Europe experienced more localised excess deaths, the ONS said.

The ONS said that while Spain recorded the highest peak of excess mortality, England had higher levels of cumulative excess mortality thanks to longer periods of time with mortality rates above the average.

Edward Morgan, from the ONS’s health analysis and life events division, said the first half of 2020 saw “extraordinary increases” in mortality rates across Western Europe, when compared with the average over the past five years.

He continued: “While none of the four UK nations had a peak mortality level as high as Spain or the worst-hit local areas of Spain and Italy, excess mortality was geographically widespread throughout the UK during the pandemic, whereas it was more geographically localised in most countries of Western Europe.

HeraldScotland: A comparison in the % difference from expected mortality rates England and ScotlandA comparison in the % difference from expected mortality rates England and Scotland

The ONS used weekly death registration data published by Eurostat and ONS data for England and Wales, National Records Scotland (NRS) data for Scotland, and Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) data for Northern Ireland.

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“Combined with the relatively slow downward ‘tail’ of the pandemic in the UK, this meant that, by the end of May, England had seen the highest overall relative excess mortality out of all the European countries compared.”

Coronavirus graphic(PA Graphics)

It found little evidence of abnormal mortality rates in Eastern Europe.

Looking at major cities, the highest peak excess mortality was in Madrid, which saw levels of excess mortality in the week ending March 27 that were more than five times higher (or 432.7% higher) than the average expected mortality rate in 2015 to 2019.

In the UK, Birmingham was the city with the highest peak excess mortality (249.7% in the week ending April 17), followed by London (226.7% in the week ending April 17) and Manchester (198.4% in the week ending April 17).