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Covid-19, non-Covid-19 and excess mortality rates not comparable across countries

2021-08-02, Kelly, Gabrielle E., Petti, Stefano, Noah, Norman

Evidence that more people in some countries and fewer in others are dying because of the pandemic, than is reflected by reported coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) mortality rates, is derived from mortality data. Using publicly available databases, deaths attributed to Covid-19 in 2020 and all deaths for the years 2015–2020 were tabulated for 35 countries together with economic, health, demographic and government response stringency index variables. Residual mortality rates (RMR) in 2020 were calculated as excess mortality minus reported mortality rates due to Covid-19 where excess deaths were observed deaths in 2020 minus the average for 2015–2019. Differences in RMR are differences not attributed to reported Covid-19. For about half the countries, RMR's were negative and for half, positive. The absolute rates in some countries were double those in others. In a regression analysis, population density and proportion of female smokers were positively associated with both Covid-19 and excess mortality while the human development index and proportion of male smokers were negatively associated with both. RMR was not associated with any of the investigated variables. The results show that published data on mortality from Covid-19 cannot be directly comparable across countries. This may be due to differences in Covid-19 death reporting and in addition, the unprecedented public health measures implemented to control the pandemic may have produced either increased or reduced excess deaths due to other diseases. Further data on cause-specific mortality is required to determine the extent to which residual mortality represents non-Covid-19 deaths and to explain differences between countries.