This is how many flu deaths there have been in England so far in 2020 compared to Covid-19

This is how many flu deaths there have been in England so far in 2020 compared to Covid-19 (Photo: Shutterstock)

More people have died from Covid-19 than have died from flu and pneumonia in England and Wales this year.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) looked at the underlying cause of death between January and August 2020.

3.4 times as many deaths from coronavirus than flu

Though the virus is only thought to have first become prevalent in the UK during March, coronavirus has caused 3.4 times as many people to die as flu and pneumonia in 2020.

The report from the ONS found that more people had died of Covid-19 in the first eight months of 2020 than have ever died of flu and pneumonia in the same period since comparable records began in 1959.

"The mortality rate for Covid-19 is also significantly higher than influenza and pneumonia rates for both 2020 and the five-year average," said Sarah Caul, from the ONS.

Between January and August 2020, there were 48,168 deaths due to Covid-19 compared to 13,600 from pneumonia. Only 394 were due to flu. Some people who died this year from Covid-19 may have died from flu in a normal year, thereby reducing the flu death figures.

Flu and pneumonia are often lumped together because many cases of pneumonia are actually caused by flu.

Like Covid-19, deaths from flu and pneumonia are linked to respiratory infections. The people at risk of all three conditions are similar, too.

Does the flu vaccine make a difference?

Professor Rowland Kao, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh, told The Guardian, that the ONS data does not reveal whether the higher death toll is down to a greater number of infections, or Covid-19 being more deadly than flu and pneumonia.

However, he added, “The substantially greater number of deaths attributed to Covid-19 does tell us that at the moment, Covid-19 is a greater risk to people than influenza.”

Professor Kao also said part of the reason for more deaths caused by Covid-19 may be down to the existence of a flu vaccine, as there is currently no available vaccination for the coronavirus.

The number of Covid-19 deaths in the eight months to 31 August is higher than the annual total of flu and pneumonia deaths in any year since 2000, the year during which a widespread flu vaccination was introduced in the UK.

The ONS report does not yet cover September to December 2020, a time of year when cases of the flu typically rise.