Covid-19 no longer a leading cause of death in England and Wales

Covid-19 has dropped out of the top five leading causes of death in England and Wales for the first time since the start of the pandemic, Office for National Statistics figures show.

Coronavirus was the sixth leading cause of death for 2022, down to 3.9% of all deaths registered being attributed to the disease as the primary cause from 11.5% in 2021 and 12.1% in 2020.

Sarah Caul, ONS head of mortality analysis, said the figures represent a “significant change” in the leading causes of death since the beginning of the pandemic.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease was the leading cause in England and Wales in 2022, with 65,967 deaths registered (11.4% of the total).

The other causes in the top five were ischaemic heart diseases; chronic lower respiratory diseases; cerebrovascular diseases such as strokes and aneurysms; and trachea, bronchus and lung cancer.

It comes after Covid-19 levels among the population of England and Wales reached record highs last year, as new variants of the virus saw the estimated number of weekly infections hit 3.9 million in early January and 4.4 million at the end of March.

The fall in Covid-19 deaths in 20222 reflects the success of the vaccination programme, which has reduced sharply the number of infected people who go on to become seriously ill or die.

Vaccines were first rolled out across the country in early 2021, with booster doses subsequently made available to older and vulnerable groups.

The overall number of deaths registered last year in England and Wales (577,160) was lower than in 2021 (586,334) and 2020 (607,922). However the total was 6.2% above the five-year average, with 33,747 “excess” or extra deaths.

High levels of excess deaths have been recorded in all three years of the pandemic, but Covid-19 is likely to have played only a minor role in the figures for 2022.

Health experts have suggested that other factors contributing to last year’s excess deaths could include seasonal viruses such as flu, the impact of the summer heatwave, pressures on the NHS, and access to medical services.