Fewer than 15 per cent of patients admitted to hospital with Covid-19 since the beginning of September have died from the disease.
That figure is half the death rate in the pandemic’s first wave in the spring.
Separate figures suggest the death rate for patients who needed intensive care has fallen even further – from 39.3 per cent up to August 31 to 11.6 per cent since then.
The dramatic falls were revealed yesterday in an analysis by the Health Service Journal. Doctors say there are several factors are behind the improvement.
Fewer than 15 per cent of patients admitted to hospital with Covid-19 since the beginning of September have died from the disease. A clinical staff member is seen caring for a patient at the Intensive Care unit at Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge in May
More widespread testing means that most patients are diagnosed and begin their treatment at an earlier stage.
Treatments have improved, with fewer patients being ventilated and more being given the effective ‘CPAP’ oxygen pressure masks to keep their airways open. There are also effective life-saving drugs such as dexamethasone.
But another critical factor may be that ‘many of the most vulnerable people succumbed to the virus in the first wave’, the report says. Meanwhile, the vulnerable and elderly patients are being better shielded.
Mohammed Munavvar, consultant chest physician and president of the British Thoracic Society, said: ‘I think the difference between springtime and now is that we are better informed and better prepared.’
Dr Alison Pittard, dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, said the reduced death rates for intensive care units may be ‘skewed’ because almost half of those admitted since September 1 are still there.
Separate figures suggest the death rate for patients who needed intensive care has fallen even further – from 39.3 per cent up to August 31 to 11.6 per cent since then. An NHS Nightingale hospital is seen in the ExCel centre London
The Health Service Journal also revealed that a key measure of the effectiveness of cancer diagnosis has gone into reverse in dozens of areas. Since 2014, the NHS began a drive to cut the proportion of cancers first picked up in A&E.
Six years ago, the figure stood at over 20 per cent, but by 2019, this had fallen to 18.8 per cent, indicating that GPs were getting better at spotting which patients needed referral.
But this year, the percentage of A&E diagnoses has soared in some areas – to levels even higher than in 2014. Warwickshire, West Birmingham, Blackburn and Oldham have seen rises of between 2.4 and 4 percentage points over the 2014 level.
In North East Lincolnshire, the proportion of cancers diagnosed in A&Es rose from 15.9 per cent in 2014 to 21.3 per cent.
Elsewhere, a study published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organisation suggested that one in every 2,000 under-70s who contract Covid are killed by it.
The estimate, calculated by Dr John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist at Stanford University in the US, would make Covid half as dangerous as the flu, which kills roughly 0.1 per cent of those it infects.
Most scientists reckon that Covid kills between 0.5 per cent and 1 per cent of patients.
But the true figure has never been definitively established.
Dr Ioannidis arrived at his figure by pooling the results of 61 ‘seroprevalence’ studies, which are based on antibody tests to identify those who have contracted the virus in the past.
He calculated an infection-fatality ratio of 0.27 per cent across all age groups and all locations – although in many areas this would be far lower.
And if over-70s are removed from the figures that falls to 0.05 per cent, he said. Some 38million globally have now tested positive for Covid. Dr Ioannidis estimates the true figure is closer to half a billion, with the majority never realising they are ill.
More widespread testing means that most patients are diagnosed and begin their treatment at an earlier stage. Treatments have improved, with fewer patients being ventilated and more being given the effective ‘CPAP’ oxygen pressure masks to keep their airways open. Staff in a Liverpool hospital are pictured above during the clap for carers in April
But his estimate was last night criticised by other scientists, who said he used figures from their studies incorrectly.
Dr Ioannidis, a consistent critic of lockdown policies, called for restrictions to be removed and the vulnerable protected.
He wrote: ‘Most locations probably have an infection fatality rate less than 0.20 per cent and with appropriate, precise non-pharmacological measures that selectively try to protect high-risk vulnerable populations and settings, the infection fatality rate may be brought even lower.’
His paper adds to calls for far more focused restrictions, in which most people are allowed to return to normality while the vulnerable are shielded.
But Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz of the University of Wollongong, Australia, whose own work was cited by Dr Ioannidi, said the study was flawed. He said the low fatality figure was ‘simply a consequence of the low quality of the review itself and has very little to do with when the estimates were made’.
‘Interestingly, Ioannidis cites our study but gets the numbers wrong,’ he said.