Coronavirus: Nine in 10 dying have existing illness

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More than nine in 10 people dying with coronavirus have an underlying health condition, figures from the Office for National Statistics show.

The ONS looked at nearly 4,000 deaths during March in England and Wales where coronavirus was mentioned on the death certificate.

In 91% of cases the individuals had other health problems.

The most common was heart disease, followed by dementia and respiratory illness.

On average, people dying also had roughly three other health conditions.

It comes amid signs the coronavirus outbreak is deterring people from going to A&E.

The number of people attending major units has nearly halved since the virus first emerged in the UK.

What else does the ONS analysis say?

The ONS has also looked at the differences in death rates by age and sex.

Men are twice as likely to die with coronavirus.

Unsurprisingly, the risk of dying increases with age, rising sharply from age 60 onwards.

Heart disease was most common underlying health condition

The ONS has also looked to what extent coronavirus is causing the death of individuals rather than another condition being more of a factor.

In most cases it was judged to be the cause that triggered their death.

To what extent is coronavirus shortening lives?

This is extremely hard to judge.

Nick Stripe, head of health analysis at the ONS, said understanding what the deaths from coronavirus meant was “difficult and challenging”.

He pointed out the risk of dying from heart disease and strokes had fallen, which could suggest they were dying from coronavirus instead of other things.

Most frequent causes of death in March

But he said there was other evidence which suggested the deaths were “on top of” what would be expected.

He said further research and debate were needed to explore the true impact of the virus on mortality.

The BBC’s head of statistics, Robert Cuffe, agreed.

“Coronavirus is doing more than taking the place of other causes of death for people who would otherwise have died this month,” he said.

“It has driven the total number of deaths higher than expected.

“People like these, with multiple health conditions, do have lower life expectancy, but these figures don’t say exactly how many months or years coronavirus has taken off their life.”

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