According to a study published on Wednesday, deaths directly or indirectly attributable to the first wave of Covid-19 infections in 21 rich countries earlier this year averaged 20 percent above government numbers.
Looking at the period from mid-February to May 2020, the researchers reported 206,000 more deaths than would have been expected without the pandemic.
But only 167,148 have been officially traced back to the coronavirus, which has hit the globe since the beginning of the year and infected tens of millions of people.
Many of the roughly 40,000 unreported deaths were due to Covid-19 but weren’t listed as such, especially at the start of the pandemic when overwhelmed hospitals in some countries were unable to systematically test patients.
Others could be due to health care disruptions, such as: B. Missed cancer treatment or lack of access to emergency services after a heart attack or accident.
“The pandemic’s impact on deaths goes beyond infection alone, as it affects death in ‘indirect’ ways,” senior author Majid Ezzati, professor of global environmental health at Imperial College London, told AFP.
The excess mortality from all reasons for the 15 week period varied widely in the countries studied.
It was the highest in Spain, England and Wales, where there were 100 “additional” deaths per 100,000 people, about 37 percent more than would have been expected without the pandemic.
– Deceptively difficult –
The study found that England and Wales, Spain and Italy accounted for three quarters of the total number of excessive deaths. Belgium and Scotland were also badly hit.
At the other end of the spectrum were Bulgaria, New Zealand, Slovakia, Australia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Norway, Denmark, and Finland, all of which had no detectable increases in deaths in the spring.
The other countries analyzed – Austria, Switzerland, Portugal, France, the Netherlands and Sweden – fell somewhere in between.
The 206,000+ deaths were almost evenly split between men and women, contradicting the death rates reported in hospitals, where a significantly higher proportion of victims were male.
Scientists say figuring out exactly how many people died during a pandemic is deceptively difficult.
Limited numbers to “confirmed cases” miss many Covid deaths that have been misdiagnosed or not tested at all.
The methods also vary.
“What counts as Covid-19 death is defined differently in different countries,” said Kevin McConway, a professor of applied statistics at the Open University in the UK who was not involved in the study.
– Build a better model –
Such an approach generally compares the number of deaths during a pandemic or other disaster with the same period in previous years.
But Ezzati and colleagues went further and built a model “that takes things like seasonality, trend, and temperature into account to predict the number that would have been expected if there hadn’t been a pandemic,” he explained.
Countries that acted quickly to introduce lockdowns would likely experience shorter periods of excessive death, the study showed.
There was also a strong statistical association between higher per capita expenditure on health care and lower death rates during the first wave of infections.
“A strong and equitable health system is the only way to address existing inequalities and make the nation resilient to future pandemics,” Ezzati said.
In a study published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), also based on an analysis of death certificates, it was found that for every two deaths in the United States from March to July, Covid-19 died directly as a third American died also to the consequences of the pandemic.
Deaths from all causes in the United States – usually stable year over year – rose 20 percent over the period studied, the study found.
The data also showed that the first states to relax restrictions on public gatherings in April and May also saw faster increases in infections and deaths in the months that followed.
“The high numbers in the sun belt” – including Texas, Arizona and Florida – “shows us the grave consequences of some states’ response to the pandemic,” said lead author Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center for Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University.
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