Pandemic caused 16% rise in average deaths across 33 OECD countries

Depression and loneliness also on the increase as well-being took 'devastating' hit

A Covid-19 ward at Leipzig University Hospital in Germany. The coronavirus has caused excess deaths and had lasting effects on physical and mental heath, according to the OECD. AP
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The Covid-19 pandemic caused a 16 per cent increase in the average number of deaths across 33 OECD countries between March last year to May, with the crisis having a devastating effect on every aspect of people’s well-being.

Rising levels of depression or anxiety, a growing sense of loneliness and feelings of disconnection from society also became more commonplace during the same period, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

“The COVID-19 pandemic has not only had devastating effects on physical heath and mortality but has touched every aspect of people’s well-being, with far-reaching consequences for how we live and work,” the Paris-based organisation said in its latest study COVID-19 and well-being: life in the pandemic.

The report found experiences of the pandemic varied widely depending on age, gender and ethnicity in the OECD area, which includes 38 countries including nations in the eurozone as well as the US, Australia, Japan and the UK, as well as on the type of job people have, their pay and skills. The crisis also aggravated existing social, economic and environmental challenges.

While government support and job retention schemes offered workers some level of protection by helping to sustain average household income levels in 2020 and stem the tide of job losses as average hours worked fell sharply, it did not solve all challenges.

Fourteen per cent of workers in 19 European OECD countries felt it was “likely they would lose their job” within three months, and almost one in three people in 25 OECD countries reported financial difficulties.

Workers from ethnic minorities were also more likely to lose their jobs during the pandemic.

Mental health deteriorated for almost all population groups on average last year but gaps in mental health by race and ethnicity are also visible. Covid-19 mortality rates for some ethnic minority communities have been more than twice those of other groups.

Meanwhile, younger adults experienced some of the largest declines in mental health, social connectedness and life satisfaction this year and last, as well as facing job disruption and insecurity.

The report, which assesses 11 dimensions identified in the OECD’s well-being framework – including income and wealth, work and job quality – argues that as governments move from emergency support to stimulating the recovery, they must refocus on what matters most to people’s well-being.

“A key objective must be to increase the job and financial security of households, and particularly those most affected by the crisis - with a focus on the most vulnerable, on youth, women and the low skilled,” the OECD said.

“Addressing the burden of poor physical and mental health and a cross-government approach to raising the well-being of the most disadvantaged children and youth must also be prioritised.”

Updated: November 25, 2021, 11:56 AM