Covid-19 Part 7:
How many deaths would have happened anyway?

Amount of 'extra' deaths will be crucial indicator of virus' danger

There needs to be a calm analysis of what ‘Covid-19 deaths’ is actually referring to. Behind this seemingly simple statistic lies complexities that are not noted in public discourse around the subject. There is a big difference between dying ‘of’ something and dying ‘with’ something. The example here is prostate cancer, where a large number of men die with it, but don’t die of it. Their bodies and immune systems become so weakened from the illness and treatment that they become susceptible to attack from other problems. There may be multiple underlying complications when they die. 

The UK statistics show that 91% of coronavirus deaths in March had at least one other underlying health condition and Ischaemic heart disease was the most common pre existing condition and was in 14% of deaths. Other top conditions were Dementia & Alzheimers, Lower Respiratory Infections, Influenza & Pneumonia, and Diabetes. 

This data agrees with other studies, including one in America where 90% of those admitted to hospital had one or more underlying health conditions. The most common were obesity, chronic lung disease and diabetes.

In this review, I have always said ‘deaths attributed to Covid-19’ because until we have all the data out in the open, it is unclear how many of these will have been solely due to the virus. It seems deaths attributed to Covid-19 will have been patients who have had the coronavirus infection in their body when they died. When patients have other underlying health problems, some life threatening, contracting the virus is not necessarily the reason for the lethal outcome. It could just have brought forward a death which was imminent and been one of many complications which was a contributor instead of ‘the’ cause. 

As sad as it is, death is a part of life. 541,000 people die every year in the UK alone, and 54 million worldwide. An average of 180,000 people in the UK were likely to have died in the first four months of this year even without Covid-19. Therefore, what we should be asking is how many ‘extra’ people are dying and will die according to yearly averages, on top of those that would have happened anyway. The only way to do that is to look at the yearly figures. 

Neil Ferguson, who heads the team at Imperial College London whose predictions of ‘500,000’ deaths led to draconian lockdown measures, addressed this issue of ‘extra deaths’. He said the amount is unclear, but the proportion of people who would have died anyway could be as high as a half or two-thirds. 

Jason Oke at the University of Oxford explained that not all of the coronavirus attributed deaths will be caused by it. The organisation EuroMOMO reported an excess of deaths in Italy, to which he responded that it was smaller than those caused in the last bad flu season in 2016. 

It’s important to note that saying that those with underlying health conditions are affected by Covid-19 is not groundbreaking information. Those with compromised immune systems will be more susceptible to a whole host of health problems including normal flu, and unfortunately elderly people fall into this category, which could be why they are more at risk. You are more likely to have a range of underlying health problems if you are older. 


What do you think? Read the next installment in the Covid-19 Review here! 

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