Debates about the Covid-19 death toll have become politically charged. Covid sceptics often claim that the figures are overstated and, therefore, lock-downs are an unnecessary, authoritarian overreach.
Yet one thing that can’t be argued – at least without positing an eye-watering conspiracy – is the total mortality data. It’s fair to say that statistical bureaux have a very, very accurate idea of how many people die, in total, of any and all causes.
This means that we can also see how many more people have died since SARS-CoV-2 began to circulate. As we reported early in the pandemic, given all the difficulties doctors have in charting the effects of a new disease, excess mortality is probably the best measure of the pandemic’s impact.
A year later, however, it turns out that medical practitioners have become impressively adept at judging the contribution of SARS-CoV-2 to a patient’s death. Taking as an example the UK, where the virus has circulated widely, excess mortality in the year since the country’s first coronavirus infection was 104,520.
Clearly, there are still some Covid-19 deaths slipping through the net. In part, this is likely due to the tests’ small false negative bias. Another factor is sudden deaths due to heart attack or stroke that may be caused by clots provoked by SARS-CoV-2 infection but not necessarily linked to the virus by medics. Overall, though, the figures are remarkably similar.
Just a Flu?
The claim that the Covid-19 death toll is inflated has become a keystone for Covid sceptics, because it’s impossible to argue that the coronavirus is no worse than the flu using just the numbers.
There were 1,596 influenza deaths in 2019 in England and Wales. The data come from the Office of National Statistics, which collates the medical judgements listed on death certificates. Extrapolating the England and Wales data to the rest of the UK gives us 1,798 influenza deaths in a year.
This means that in the first year of the pandemic, the coronavirus killed 58 times more people than the flu killed in 2019. No worse than the flu – really, people?
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