Paris | The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is responsible for more than 200,000 deaths, both directly and indirectly, in around 20 Western countries, estimates a study published Wednesday.
• Read also: All developments in the COVID-19 pandemic
Nineteen nations in Europe, Australia and New Zealand recorded a total of “around 206,000 more deaths than expected if the COVID-19 pandemic had not occurred” between mid-February and the end of May , concludes this mathematical modeling study, published in the journal Nature Medicine.
England and Wales as well as Spain appear to be the hardest-hit nations, with a 37% to 38% increase in mortality over expected levels in the absence of a pandemic – against an increase of 18% on average over all the countries analyzed.
Italy, Scotland and Belgium follow, while France ranks 8th, with a relative increase in deaths of 13%.
A group of ten countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Hungary and Norway, were able to “prevent a noticeable increase in deaths”.
The disease caused by the Sars-Cov-2 virus has directly caused more than a million deaths worldwide, according to official counts, but it has also resulted in deaths indirectly, due to its social and economic effects and disruption of health systems (drop in income, delayed diagnosis, postponement of operations, decline in physical activity, increase in suicides and intra-family violence, etc.).
“Similar to lung cancer”
Conversely, the decrease in road traffic or the improvement in air quality during confinement could have avoided the deaths that would have occurred without the pandemic.
Knowing about these indirect effects is “necessary to understand the real impact of the pandemic in terms of public health”, explain researchers from Imperial College London.
“This figure (206,000) is similar to the total number of deaths from lung cancer, and is more than double those linked to diabetes or breast cancer in these countries for an entire year,” said in a statement the National Institute for Demographic Studies (INED), associated with the study.
The researchers used mortality data since 2010 in the countries studied, to establish how many deaths they would normally have expected in the period from mid-February to May 2020, if the COVID-19 pandemic had not had location.
They then compared these figures to the number of deaths actually recorded during that period, from all causes, to deduce the excess mortality attributable to COVID-19.
The countries chosen for the study are those with a population of over 4 million and for which the team of researchers had weekly mortality data, broken down by age group and sex, dating back to at least 2015.
According to the authors, the differences between countries “reflect variations in the characteristics of the population, policies, response to the pandemic, and the readiness of public health systems.”
To minimize the toll of the pandemic, building care pathways to correctly orient patients and take care of those with chronic diseases is as important as fighting against the transmission of the virus, they argue.
“The results of this research work could help put in place public policies that will limit the mortality of future waves of the epidemic”, estimates INED.
“Countries with effective and comprehensive testing and contact tracing campaigns at the local level, or those (…) with early and effective containment measures in place, have experienced a lower death toll. during the first wave, ”observes Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard, co-author of the study, based at the School of Public Health at Imperial College.
“As we enter the second wave, testing and tracing programs, and support for people who need to self-isolate, represent our most important lever to minimize the impact of the pandemic,” he adds. he.