The number of deaths involving coronavirus registered each week in England and Wales has dropped by 12% – the biggest week-on-week percentage fall in nearly four months.
A total of 783 deaths registered in the week ending October 1 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
This is down from 888 deaths registered in the previous week.
The drop of 12% is the largest week-on-week percentage decrease since a 14% fall in the week to June 11, when the number of deaths dropped from 98 to 84.
Since mid-June the number of deaths registered each week has followed a broadly upwards trend, reflecting the impact of the third wave of Covid-19.
The latest figures suggest this trend may have come to a halt.
It is too soon to know whether it is the start of a clear downwards path, however.
Deaths during the third wave of the virus have never reached the levels seen at the peak of the second wave.
Some 8,433 deaths involving Covid-19 were registered in England and Wales in the week to January 29.
The relatively low number of deaths in the third wave, when compared with the second wave, reflects the success of the rollout of coronavirus vaccines across the country.
Vaccinations in England are estimated to have prevented 127,500 deaths, according to the latest research by Cambridge University and the UK Health Security Agency.
There are still more people dying than normal for this time of the year, however.
The total number of deaths registered in England and Wales in the week to October 1 was 12.1% above the pre-pandemic five-year average, the ONS said – the equivalent of 1,133 more deaths.
It is the 13th week in a row where the ONS has reported extra deaths, or “excess deaths”.
The number of excess deaths in private homes in England and Wales since the start of the pandemic now stands at 72,256, according to analysis by the PA news agency.
Of this number, just 8,577, or 12%, were deaths that involved Covid-19.
Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at the Open University, said there were “reasons for optimism” about the drop in death registrations, but he “wouldn’t be at all comfortable” if the weekly total remained at its current level.
“It may well continue to fall, at least in the short term, but we are moving towards the winter when respiratory infections such as Covid-19 usually have greater impact, so it’s important to get infection levels down,” he said.
“If someone avoids becoming infected with the virus that can cause Covid-19, they will obviously not die of the disease. Currently infection levels are high, particularly in children of secondary school age, so it’s really important to get on with vaccinating people in that age group.”
The “direction of travel” looks better than it has for many weeks, he added – though “things can turn around quite fast, as we’ve seen before several times during the pandemic”.
Overall, 163,437 deaths have now occurred in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, the ONS said.
The highest number on a single day was 1,484 on January 19.
During the first wave of the virus, the daily toll peaked at 1,461 on April 8 2020.