BY James Harrison, Local Democracy Reporter

Sunderland has the second-highest rate of COVID deaths in the North East.

New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have shown only Middlesbrough is recording coronavirus fatalities faster than Wearside in the region.

And the pattern is also repeated when all deaths are taken into consideration, with the data also placing both among the highest in the country, with rates comparable to London.

“By mid-April, the region with the highest proportion of deaths involving COVID-19 was London, with the virus being involved in more than 4 in 10 deaths since the start of March,” said Nick Stripe, the ONS’s head of health analysis.

“In contrast, the region with the lowest proportion of COVID-19 deaths was the South West, which saw just over 1 in 10 deaths involving coronavirus.

“The 11 local authorities with the highest mortality rates were all London boroughs, with Newham, Brent and Hackney suffering the highest rates of COVID-19 related deaths.

“People living in more deprived areas have experienced COVID-19 mortality rates more than double those living in less deprived areas.

“General mortality rates are normally higher in more deprived areas, but so far COVID-19 appears to be taking them higher still.”

According to the ONS data for March 1 – April 17, which has been ‘age-standardised’ for comparison across England and Wales, Sunderland had an overall death rate of 218 per 100,000 and a COVID-19 death rate of 63 per 100,000.

Only Middlesbrough was higher in the North East, with the overall death rate at 256 per 100,000 and the COVID rate at 79 per 100,000.

‘Age-standardised mortality rates’ allow statisticians to compare areas fairly by taking into account population ages.

This is particularly important to tracking coronavirus, which has been shown to affect older people most.

Figures for the North East as a whole showed it had had the lowest total number of deaths in the period out of nine English regions and Wales.

But this also included one of the highest proportions of COVID-19 deaths, with the virus linked to more than one in five.

Only the West Midlands, London and the North West were higher.