Around half of deaths from COVID-19 are happening in care homes, according to data from some European countries.
Figures from five European countries suggest that care home residents have accounted for between 42% and 57% of all deaths related to COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
The figures are contained in a report by academics at the London School of Economics, which focuses on Italy, Spain, France, Ireland and Belgium.
This would suggest that the daily figures announced by the UK government are vastly under-estimated, as they only include deaths in hospitals where a patient had tested positive for the virus.
Almost two million people worldwide have been infected with the disease and around 120,000 have died after testing positive for it, according to data from US university Johns Hopkins.
On Monday, England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said 13.5% of the UK’s care homes had at least one resident with a confirmed case of coronavirus, up from 9% the previous week.
But the figures from Europe, taken between 6 and 11 April, suggest a higher rate of infection and fatality from the disease.
In Spain, figures from media reports showed 57% of all COVID-19 deaths could be in care homes, while official figures in Ireland showed the rate there to be around 54%.
In Belgium, official data showed a rate of 42% and in France the figure was 45%. In Italy, extrapolation of an official survey showed around 53% of COVID-19 deaths were in care homes.
The researchers did say that the systems for recording deaths linked to COVID-19 in care homes varied between different countries and regions.
Professor Whitty said he would like to see testing increased at care homes.
“One of the things we want to do is to extend the amount of testing of people in care homes as the ability to test ramps up over the next few weeks.
“Because clearly care homes are one of the areas where there are large numbers of vulnerable people and that is an area of risk and therefore we would very much… like to have much more extensive testing.”
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Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, said the lack of personal protective equipment and testing had allowed COVID-19 to “run wild” in care homes.
“The current figures are airbrushing older people out like they don’t matter,” she said.