DEATHS in Southampton remained higher than normal levels in May following a spike the previous month, official figures show.

But as mortality rates across the UK begin to return to pre-pandemic levels, a leading behavioural scientist warned scrapping the two-metre rule is a “disaster waiting to happen”.

Office for National Statistics figures show 180 deaths recorded in Southampton in May.

That was 13 more than the number recorded in May 2019.

This was lower than the average rise across the South East’s 67 local authorities however, where death counts increased by 16 per cent.

Southampton also saw a jump in fatalities in the previous month, with 138 more deaths compared to April 2019.

It means that in the year to the end of May there were 169 more deaths than at the same point last year.

Figures show deaths that may have been indirectly caused by the pandemic, like people not seeking or receiving medical attention for other conditions.

Across England and Wales, the death toll in May rose by more than 8,000, climbing from 44,290 in 2019 to 52,315 this year.

Between the start of January and the end of May, there were 290,157 deaths recorded across the two countries, an increase of 58,581 from the year before.

The ONS announced at the end of June that the number of deaths registered in England and Wales over the week ending June 19 had fallen below normal levels since the lockdown.

It came before pubs, restaurants and hairdressers reopened on Saturday, and the two-metre rule went down to one.

But behavioural scientist Professor Susan Michie said: “It’s a disaster waiting to happen.

"If you go down to one metre, that is the distance that people you don’t know and are not intimate with are distant from each other just generally going around and about their business. So basically you have lost the concept of social distance.”