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Coronavirus update

While the NHS’ daily count of covid-19 hospital deaths may be showing tentative signs of positive news, the Office for National Statistics’ latest offering of figures for weekly registered deaths in England and Wales cast a darker shadow.

There were 16,387 deaths in the week leading up to 3 April — 6,082 more than would normally occur that week, according to a five year average. However, just 3,475 of the death certifications mentioned covid-19.

What happened to the extra 2,607? It is not known. It could be some deaths were caused by the virus but not recorded as such. Or it may be that people are not seeking healthcare when they need it, too worried to go to a hospital or GP for fear of coronavirus. Or it may be that the NHS’ focus on pandemic has weakened other services. Most likely a mixture.

Speaking of mismatched numbers, there appears to be a prospect of London’s celebrated Nightingale temporary hospital remaining largely empty during the coronavirus outbreak.

HSJ understands the conference-centre-turned-hospital was caring for just 19 patients over the Easter weekend. It is kitted out for almost 4,000.

This is because the capital’s existing hospitals have managed to double their intensive care capacity over the last month, and have so far been able to deal with the surge of covid-19 patients.

Normally, the underutilisation of such a huge facility would provoke public outcry, but, in this case, it’s a sign of success. Better to have prepared for the worst, rather than being caught short of ICU beds. And of course there may yet be a much greater peak of critical care demand in the capital.

Meanwhile, a wider pool of NHS staff and their households are now in theory able to be tested for covid-19, providing they are within the first three days of the onset of symptoms.

Not only acute staff but those working in mental health, primary care and community service should be able to access a test, an NHS England letter has confirmed.

The three-day (or, at a push, five-day) cap is not, HSJ understands, down to testing availability but because the test is more effective when done early on. The only difficulty is the practicalities of getting access.