CNN  — 

Europe is drowning in the second wave of the coronavirus epidemic. Infection rates are skyrocketing across the continent. Governments are imposing strict lockdowns. Economies are shutting down again. But there is a glimmer of hope: The virus, while still deadly, appears to be killing fewer people on average.

Recent case and fatality figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) show that while recorded Covid-19 cases are spiking in the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Germany and other European countries, deaths are not rising at the same rate.

“The fatality rate has declined, in the UK, we can see it going down from around June to a low point in August,” said Jason Oke, a senior statistician at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences. “Our current estimate is that the infection fatality rate is going up a little bit, but it hasn’t come up to anywhere near where we were and that’s unlikely to change dramatically unless we see a really surprising increase in the numbers of deaths.”

Oke has been tracking Covid-19 fatality rates along with his colleague Carl Heneghan of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine and health economist Daniel Howdon. Their research shows that, at the end of June, the fatality rate was just below 3% in the UK. By August, it had dropped as low as about 0.5%. It now stands at roughly 0.75%.

“We think it’s probably driven a lot by age, but also other factors, like treatment,” Oke said.

The lower death rate isn’t unique to Europe.

In New York, the death rate for those hospitalized with coronavirus-related illnesses has also dropped since earlier this year, according to a study by a team of researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine. A wider analysis of data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by the NYU team shows that across the United States, “6.7% of cases resulted in death in April, compared with 1.9% in September.”

Younger, healthier people are getting infected

The most obvious reason for the lower death toll is age.

The first wave of the pandemic hit Europe’s elderly people particularly hard, spreading in hospitals and care homes, but this has changed over the summer, with the virus circulating more widely among younger people going to restaurants, bars and other public places.

The median age of those becoming infected across Europe declined from 54 during the period from January to May, to 39 in June and July, according to the ECDC.

Older people face a much higher risk of becoming seriously ill if they get infected, so an outbreak affecting a care home is likely to be much more deadly than one on a college campus.

In fact, data gathered by researchers from London School of Economics’ long-term care responses to Covid-19 group shows that, on average, 46% of all Covid-19 deaths across 21 countries happened in care homes.

The researchers found that in several countries, including Belgium, Ireland, Spain, the UK and the US, the proportion of care home residents whose deaths have been linked to coronavirus was higher than 4% in some cases. That means that more than one in 25 care home residents who died since the beginning of the pandemic did so because of Covid-19.