More than 4,300 people in care homes across England and Wales died from Covid-19 in a fortnight, according to official figures which show a sharp increase in mortality outside hospitals.
The latest figures mean that more than 25,000 people have died across the UK after contracting coronavirus.
Data gathered by the care homes regulator, , published for the first time on Tuesday by the Office for National Statistics, showed that from 10-24 April care homes reported 4,343 deaths from coronavirus.
Half of them came in the last five days, indicating an accelerating death toll.
It marks a sharp rise in the official death toll in care homes, which stood at 1,043 up to 10 April.
The ONS cautioned that the figures, gathered from death certificates by the Care Quality Commission, may yet be an underestimate because of reporting delays. Care home operators have said the outbreak in care homes is still not at its peak.
Figures gathered by the Guardian from the largest care home chains have shown rises in the number of fatalities from Covid-19 in residential and nursing homes of between 50% and 79% in the last one to two weeks.
Sam Monaghan, the chief executive of MHA, the largest charitable operator of care homes, which has lost 294 residents to confirmed or suspected coronavirus, said the figures were starting to show “what we have known for some weeks now, that care homes are sadly the most affected area of society in terms of deaths from Covid-19”.
Vic Rayner, the chief executive of the National Care Forum, said the figures showed “the very urgent need for a daily tracking of all Covid-19 deaths as a key priority for the government” and called for a “ring of steel” around care homes.
“They need the right PPE equipment, medical monitoring devices, rapid and comprehensive testing, proper funding and intensive research to safeguard the people they care for,” she said. “This virus is not going away – this data shows that the ‘whatever it takes’ mantra must be applied urgently to protect the most vulnerable in social care, as we have to the NHS.”
The World Health Organization is recommending that people take simple precautions to reduce exposure to and transmission of the coronavirus, for which there is no specific cure or vaccine.
The UN agency advises people to:
Frequently wash their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or warm water and soap
Cover their mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing
Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough
Seek early medical help if they have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and share their travel history with healthcare providers
Advice about face masks varies. Wearing them while out and about may offer some protection against both spreading and catching the virus via coughs and sneezes, but it is not a cast-iron guarantee of protection
Many countries are now enforcing or recommending curfews or lockdowns. Check with your local authorities for up-to-date information about the situation in your area.
In the UK, NHS advice is that anyone with symptoms should stay at home for at least 7 days.
If you live with other people, they should stay at home for at least 14 days, to avoid spreading the infection outside the home.
Up to 17 April, there were 22,300 deaths registered in England and Wales where Covid-19 was mentioned on death certificates. The virus accounted for 39% of all deaths, over half of the death toll in London and more than 40% in the north-west and the north-east.
Separately, figures for Scotland show that by 19 April, of the 1,616 deaths from the virus, a third happened in care homes.
The number of deaths in care homes where Covid-19 has been included on the death certificate has risen sharply from two deaths in the week ending 20 March, to 22 deaths, 217 deaths, 1,043 deaths and 3,093 in the following four weeks to 17 April, according to the ONS. The CQC figures, which account for a further week but are broadly tracking the ONS figures, suggest the ONS data next week is likely to show well over 5,000 care home deaths in total.
ONS data has to be certified by a doctor, registered and processed, so is usually published approximately 11 days in arrears.
Labour said the figures showed “the appalling impact Covid-19 is having people who use social care”.
Liz Kendall, shadow minister for social care, wrote to the health secretary Matt Hancock calling for “whatever it takes” resourcing for care homes to tackle the pandemic, guaranteeing PPE for care workers and priority testing for the virus, close to their homes.
She urged him to use spare NHS capacity, including the Nightingale hospitals, to receive people discharged from hospital with a positive Covid-19 diagnosis rather than sending them into care homes, and also to accept coronavirus sufferers from care homes that are struggling to cope.
Internationally, the proportion of Covid-19-related deaths in care homes ranges from 19% to 72%, according to monitoring by academics based at the London School of Economics.
In Ontario, Canada, more than 70% of deaths have taken place in care homes, according to the International Long Term Care policy network. Fifty-three per cent of Belgium’s Covid-19 deaths happened in care homes, according to figures on 26 April. In France, figures published on Saturday 25 April showed 38% of deaths occurred in care homes, while a further 13% lived in care homes but died in hospital. Figures from last week suggest the percentage is 57% in Ireland and 70% in Madrid.
The ONS data released on Tuesday also showed the increasing impact on deaths from non-Covid-19 causes as a side-effect of the UK’s response to the pandemic.
Covid-19 deaths drove up the total number of deaths in England and Wales to 22,351 for the week to 17 April – 11,854 higher than the five-year average and the highest recorded for 27 years when comparable records began.
The number of so-called “excess deaths” not attributed to Covid-19 was 3,096 in the week ending 17 April up from 1,783 the week before. These fatalities may be occurring because of reduced treatment of chronic illnesses such as cancer so the NHS could make room for more intensive care provision for coronavirus patients, as well as ill people being reluctant to attend hospital.