Covid-19 and death rates

The latest statistics from the ONS show that the 3,475 Covid-19 deaths in the week to 3 April increased the overall death rate in the UK from the expected 10,305 to 16,387, it was sadly only a matter of time before this effect started to show. There has been a great deal of media comment about how the 6,082 excess deaths is about 1/3 higher than the number of Covid-19 deaths, this has been attributed to under reporting of Covid-19 deaths in Care Homes and the community, people not seeking help with other medical conditions in time (UK hospital A&E departments are reporting much reduced traffic), suicides and other causes, all these are likely to be part of the story.

Last week’s Economist ran an interesting analysis of five other badly hit areas, in Bergamo, Castile & Leon, Castile-La Mancha, Haut-Rhin, and Madrid in these places, the average excess death toll was double, and in some cases triple, the number of deaths officially attributed to Covid-19. At the moment it is not possible to fully understand the difference, however the same effect has been noted after other disasters. I fear we can expect the difference to continue to climb in the UK.

This effect makes the decision on when to ease the lockdown even more difficult: Would easing the lockdown cut the number of excess deaths not directly attributed to Covid-19, by making people more willing to visit A&E for example, or would it simply increase the overall death rate by increasing the number of Covid-19 deaths, putting more strain on the health services, reducing their capability to care for other patients. Until we have a better understanding of the causes of this it will be difficult to make a choice.

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