British prime minister Boris Johnson has boasted of the UK’s “massive success” in driving down coronavirus deaths as it emerged England had the highest levels of excess mortality in Europe across the first half of this year.
The country experienced the longest continuous period of excess deaths as well as the highest levels, found a comparison of 23 European countries by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
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.
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 for comparison purposes.
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.
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 said excess mortality was geographically widespread and prolonged in the UK.
Using the measure of all-cause mortality to calculate the impact of the pandemic means results are not affected by the different ways countries record Covid-19 deaths.
It also considers the indirect impacts of the pandemic, such as reduced or delayed access to care.
The ONS used weekly death registration data published by Eurostat and ONS data for England and Wales, National Records Scotland data for Scotland, and Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) data for Northern Ireland.
Asked if he was ashamed of the findings, Mr Johnson said the nation "has had a massive success" in reducing the number of deaths.
"We mourn every loss of life that we've had throughout the coronavirus epidemic," he said, during a visit to North Yorkshire.
"What I would say to them (families of the deceased) is that we really owe it to them to continue our work in driving the virus down.
"Clearly this country has had a massive success now in reducing the numbers of those tragic deaths.
"We've got it at the moment under some measure of control. The numbers of deaths are well, well down."