Care home residents accounted for half of all coronavirus-related deaths across Dorset which totalled 321 by the end of May, new figures reveal.

Although statistics show weekly Covid-19 fatalities across the UK are falling, scientists say the high overall death rate is because the coronavirus epidemic started earlier than predicted, with care homes poorly protected.

A Public Health England review into disparities around the risk of coronavirus has identified age as the biggest factor, with pensioners aged 80 or older 70 times more likely to die from Covid-19 than those under 40.

Office for National Statistics data shows that in the Dorset Council area, 153 deaths involving Covid-19 were provisionally registered up to May 30.

Of those, 85 occurred outside hospital – including 76 in care homes and two at private homes. A further seven deaths occurred in hospices, other community establishments or elsewhere.

In the BCP area there have been 168 deaths, 87 of which were outside hospital, including 79 in care homes, seven in private homes and one in a hospice.

The figures include deaths that occurred up to May 22 which were registered up to eight days later.

ONS data is based on where Covid-19 is mentioned anywhere on the death certificate. Due to differences in this reporting there is always a disparity to the figures supplied by Public Health England whose latest figures published yesterday showed a total 151 patients have died at Dorset hospitals since the outbreak began.

Across England and Wales, more than 44,000 deaths involving Covid-19 were provisionally registered up to May 30. Of those, 36 per cent occurred outside hospital – the majority in care homes.

Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, told the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee he was “shocked” at how badly care home populations were protected globally.

“I, like many people, am shocked about how badly European – or countries around the world – have protected care home populations,” he said.Asked about what could be done in future, he said: “If we had done a better job, or did do a better job, of reducing transmission in closed institutions like hospitals and care homes, we would have a little bit more room, wiggle room as it were.

“The infections in care homes and hospitals spilled back into the community, more commonly from the people who work in those institutions.”

Professor Matt Keeling, of the University of Warwick, suggested to the committee that modellers “dropped the ball” on care homes early in the coronavirus crisis.

“It’s very easy to say we know care homes and hospitals are these huge collections of very vulnerable individuals, so maybe with hindsight we could have modelled those early on and thought about the impacts there,” he said.

The number of deaths involving coronavirus in England and Wales reached its lowest weekly level for seven weeks towards the end of last month, ONS data shows.

There were 2,589 deaths involving coronavirus in England and Wales registered in the week ending May 22.