Extent of Covid pandemic felt in premature deaths

Only six countries had fewer premature deaths than expected in 2020

The extent of the Covid-19 death toll is revealed in a new study that shows premature deaths have caused cuts in life expectancy around the world.

The study found more than 28 million years of life were lost prematurely in 31 countries in 2020. Russia and the US suffered the greatest declines in life expectancy and only in six countries did premature death rates fall.

The rates of excess premature deaths were higher in men than women, according to the study published in the BMJ.

The highest rates of excess premature deaths were in Russia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, and the US.

Only Taiwan, New Zealand, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and South Korea, had fewer premature deaths than expected in 2020 among upper-middle and high-income countries.

Researchers compared the observed life expectancy and years of life lost in 2020 with those that would be expected based on trends in 2005-2019 in 31 upper-middle and high-income countries.

The team of researchers, led by Dr Nazrul Islam from the Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, estimated changes in life expectancy and excess years of life lost (YLL) from all causes in 2020.

Between 2005 and 2019, life expectancy at birth had increased in both men and women in all the countries studied.

“Our findings of a comparable or lower than expected YLL in Taiwan, New Zealand, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and South Korea underscore the importance of successful viral suppression and elimination policies, including targeted and population based public health policy interventions,” the team said.

“As many of the effects of the pandemic might take a longer time frame to have a measurable effect on human lives, continuous and timely monitoring of excess YLL would help identify the sources of excess mortality and excess YLL in population subgroups,” they said.

The highest declines in life expectancy were in Russia, the US, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Chile and Spain.

YLL declined in most countries in both men and women between 2005 and 2019, except Canada, Greece, Scotland, Taiwan, and the US.

In 2020, YLL were higher than expected in all countries except Taiwan and New Zealand, where there was a reduction in years of life lost, and Iceland, South Korea, Denmark, and Norway, where there was no evidence of a change in years of life lost.

In the remaining 31 countries, more than 222 million years of life were lost in 2020, which is 28.1 million more than expected.

Overall, excess years of life lost to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 were more than five times higher than those associated with the seasonal influenza epidemic in 2015.

The excess years of life lost were relatively low in people younger than 65 years, except in Russia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, and the US.

YLL measures both the number of deaths and the age at which it occurs.

Updated: November 2nd 2021, 10:30 PM
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