Covid-19 Mortality: An Overview

COVID19 - CORONAVIRUS, 15 Mar 2021

Swiss Policy Research - TRANSCEND Media Service

11 Mar 2021 – An Overview of Covid-19 Mortality per Country

A) Excess mortality B) Life expectancy C) Nursing homes D) Countries

A) Excess Mortality Per Country

The following live chart, developed by Ariel Karlinsky and Dmitry Kobak, shows excess mortality per country, compared to the 2015-19 baseline, since the beginning of the pandemic. In most Western countries, the covid pandemic increased mortality by about 5% to 20% until March 2021, but in some Latin American countries, mortality increased by up to 100%.

These figures refer to all-cause excess mortality and may include non-covid excess deaths. Official data from the US and the UK indicate that in some countries, up to one third of all excess deaths may not be due to covid, but due to indirect effects of the pandemic and lockdowns.

Please enlarge the chart to see details. The red number indicates excess deaths since the start of the pandemic; the black number indicates excess deaths per 100,000 population; the grey number, excess deaths compared to annual baseline; the blue number, ratio of excess deaths to reported covid-19 deaths (i.e. undercounting or non-covid excess deaths). Red line is 2020, purple is 2021.

Excess mortality per country since the beginning of the pandemic. (Karlinsky & Kobak)

Covid mortality depends on the infected population proportion as well as on demographics (e.g. age structure) and health indicators (e.g. cardiovascular disease prevalence). By the end of 2020, infection attack rates ranged between 10% and 30% in most Western countries and between 25% and 50% in many Latin American countries. The following chart shows the infection attack rate per country as of 1 September 2020, i.e. prior to the second wave.

Infection attack rate per country as of 1 September 2020. (O’Driscoll et al.)

B) Impact on Life Expectancy

Life expectancy is a theoretical concept describing the average age people born in a certain year will reach, assuming that the mortality rate per age of that year will stay constant forever. As a pandemic is a transient event, life expectancy will likely return to its pre-pandemic levels after the pandemic subsides, unless there are significant, population-wide long-term health sequelae.

The following chart, developed by José Manuel Aburto et al., shows the temporary impact of the covid pandemic on life expectancy per country. Specifically, it shows the change in life expectancy in 2020 (negative in most countries), at birth and at age 60, for males and for females, compared to the average yearly change in life expectancy between 2015 and 2019 (positive in all countries).

In most countries, the median age of covid deaths was close to the average life expectancy or even slightly above (e.g. 78 years in the USA and 80 to 86 years in Western Europe). Therefore, despite high excess mortality in some countries, the impact on life expectancy was limited.

As can be seen, the temporary decrease in life expectancy in 2020 ranged from zero (in countries hardly affected by the coronavirus) to minus 2.1 years in US males. For comparison, the 1918/19 “Spanish flu” pandemic, which in contrast to covid killed many young people, lowered US life expectancy by about 15 years, from 55 years to 40 years. Thus, the “Spanish flu” had lowered US life expectancy about eight times more than covid did in 2020 (see below).

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