THE number of people dying in Scotland was 20 per cent higher than normal by mid-November, according to latest figures.

Statistics from the National Records of Scotland show that there were 1,357 deaths registered in the week beginning November 16.

That is 227 more than would normally occur at this time of year, based on the five-year average for the same week.

The vast majority - 210 - were linked on the death certificate to Covid infections.

The figures are in line with a report from the Office for National Statistics, published on Tuesday, which found that the total number of deaths occurring across the UK was nearly a fifth higher than normal in the week ending November 13.

Sarah Scobie, of the Nuffield Trust health think tank, described the figures as a “sobering reminder of the dreadful impact of this virus” which was “piling on the pressure” on the NHS.

“For some hospitals, particularly in Covid hotspot areas, it will feel as if they are in the depths of winter already,” she added.

Since the second wave of coronavirus infections accelerated at the end of September, the number of people dying in Scotland has been 13% above normal with 1,108 excess deaths - 997 linked to Covid.

READ MORE: Scotland has third highest excess death rate in Europe

Over the course of the pandemic in Scotland - which the NRS dates from March 16 - the overall death rate has been 16 per cent higher than normal with 5,988 excess deaths, of which 4,930 (82 per cent) were Covid deaths.

However there have also been 334 extra deaths from heart disease and stroke, 336 more from dementia, and 1,194 extra deaths from ‘other’ causes - up 14% on the average. These can include anything from sepsis and brain haemorrhages to road accidents and suicide.

There have also been 19 deaths more than usual from cancer, although the consequences of the virus for cancer patients are likelier to emerge in the longer term as a result of delayed diagnosis and treatment.

Last week, Public Health Scotland revealed there had been a 40% drop in the number of people diagnosed with cancer at the height of lockdown measures between March and June, which was “unlikely to be due to a reduced occurrence of cancer”.

These excess deaths have been partially offset by a substantial fall in deaths from respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia, which are down by 827 (20%) since mid-March.

A reduction in the circulation of other, non-Covid respiratory viruses - due to social distancing and increased hygiene - is likely to be behind this trend.

Cases of flu also tend to rise in December and peak during January and February, but there is evidence from countries including Australia that incidence could be lower this winter, possibly due to Covid restrictions.

However, Dr Gregor Smith, Scotland’s interim chief medical officer, said the outlook was difficult to predict.

He said: “When we look at the experience globally, particularly in the southern hemisphere, it has been a remarkably quiet flu season, but flu is very unpredictable and we will continue to be vigilant.”

The NRS figures differ from the daily Covid statistics because they include instances where the disease is a presumed cause or contributory factor in someone’s death, even if the individual had not been tested for the virus.

Excess deaths are also seen as a more accurate measure for the impact of a pandemic because it is not skewed by higher or lower levels of virus testing in different countries, and means that indirect deaths - such as people not going to A&E with cardiac symptoms - are included.

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In July, the ONS reported that Scotland had the third highest excess death rate in Europe - after England and Spain - during the first wave of the pandemic, up to the end of May.

The calculation was age-standardised to adjust for different nations’ demographics and based on deaths from all causes per 100,000 people, to account for different countries’ population sizes.

On this basis, Scotland’s excess death rate was 5.1%, compared to 7.6% in England and 6.7% for Spain.

There are signs that the second Covid wave is now declining in Scotland, however, with prevalence down 17% in the two weeks up to Sunday, although the test positivity rate - at 6.6% - remains too high.