The UK has now recorded 32,000 deaths with coronavirus, a figure that has just overtaken Italy, while the US total stands at about 70,000. This has already been seized on by Boris Johnson’s critics as proof that his response to the pandemic has been worse than anyone’s except Donald Trump.

However, the UK’s ranking in the league table of grief, and the reasons for it, are more complicated than that. Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, set some of them out at a government briefing last week.

First, different countries record deaths differently. Italy’s figure is likely to be an underestimate, as is China’s, currently standing at fewer than 5,000 deaths. Some countries are more likely to record Covid-19 or suspected Covid-19 with the death, and whether or not it is reported as the cause of death. A “death with coronavirus” is different from a “death from coronavirus”.

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