UK coronavirus deaths fall to lowest weekly level in six weeks

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The number of deaths involving coronavirus in the UK reached its lowest weekly level for six weeks in May, official figures show.

There were 4,210 deaths involving Covid-19 registered in the week ending 15 May, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). It is the lowest weekly total since the week ending 3 April, when 3,801 coronavirus-related deaths were registered.

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Coronavirus: should everyone be wearing face masks?

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The World Health Organization (WHO) guidance on face masks has remained consistent during the coronavirus pandemic. It has stuck to the line that masks are for healthcare workers – not the public. 

“Wearing a medical mask is one of the prevention measures that can limit the spread of certain respiratory viral diseases, including Covid-19. However, the use of a mask alone is insufficient to provide an adequate level of protection, and other measures should also be adopted,” the WHO has stated.

Nevertheless, as some countries have eased lockdown conditions, they have been making it mandatory to wear face coverings outside, as a way of trying to inhibit spread of the virus. This is in the belief that the face covering will prevent people who cough and sneeze ejecting the virus any great distance. 

There is no robust scientific evidence – in the form of trials – that ordinary masks block the virus from infecting people who wear them. There is also concerns the public will not understand how to use a mask properly, and may get infected if they come into contact with the virus when they take it off and then touch their faces.

Also underlying the WHO’s concerns is the shortage of high-quality protective masks for frontline healthcare workers.

Nevertheless, masks do have a role when used by people who are already infected. It is accepted that they can block transmission to other people. Given that many people with Covid-19 do not show any symptoms for the first days after they are infected, masks clearly have a potential role to play, especially on crowded public transport as people return to work.

 Sarah Boseley Health editor

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The proportion of deaths involving the virus and the total number of excess deaths compared with the five-year average continued to decrease.

But the total number of deaths from all causes rose by 1,916 to 14,573, with an increase in deaths being registered after a dip during the early May bank holiday.

For the first time, deaths in care homes accounted for more than half of the total number of deaths with Covid-19.

On 9 May, there were 214 deaths in care homes – 51% of the total, while 191 (46%) took place in hospitals.

The figures bring the total number of deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK to more than 47,000. They show that 42,173 deaths involving coronavirus occurred in England and Wales up to 15 May (and had been registered up to 23 May).

Figures from the National Records of Scotland, published last week, showed 3,546 deaths involving Covid-19 had been registered in Scotland up to 17 May.

Data from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, also published last week, showed 664 deaths involving Covid-19 had been registered in Northern Ireland up to 20 May.

Together, these figures mean that so far 46,383 deaths have been registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, including suspected cases.

A further 964 hospital patients in England who had tested positive for Covid-19 died between 16 and 24 May, according to figures published on Monday by NHS England, which, together with the total figure of 46,383 registered deaths, indicates the overall death toll for the UK is just over 47,300.

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