Will the number of coronavirus deaths in the UK really be as high as we are told?

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Apocalyptic predictions that the number of deaths from coronaviruses in Britain will be the highest in Europe have increased over the past week.

“Alarmism” started after a report by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), based at the University of Washington in Seattle, suggested that the UK could reach 66,000 deaths in August, culminating in 3,000 per day, and representing more than 40% of the total number of deaths on the continent.

The figures were happily captured by the left press and displayed on the front page as evidence that the government’s strategy has failed.

However, within hours, British experts had qualified the modeling as “absurd”, and this weekend, the IHME had revised down its estimate to 37494 – and admitted that it could be as low as 26,000 , which isn’t much different from the Imperial College figure of around 20,000.

For anyone following the death track, it was clear that something extraordinary would have to happen before our daily mortality rate could reach 3,000. All other countries showed a smooth upward trend followed by stabilization progressive, so the UK should have had a trend-defying boost to get closer to the IHME figures.

Keith Neal, emeritus professor of epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, said: “Redoing their prediction in less than a week strongly suggests major flaws in their models. This is not the first model to have shown that their projections are serious. Although it is a pandemic, the epidemiology in each country is different and different within countries. “

Explaining the updated numbers, IHME said the new data took into account the effect of social distancing and included four days of additional data.

But Imperial epidemiologists also pointed out that the model showed that Britain had already exceeded its ICU capacity by three times, even though the NHS currently has many spare ICU beds.

Professor James Naismith, Director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute and Professor of Structural Biology at the University of Oxford, said: “I note that the IHME has updated its forecasts and that it has significantly lowered the worst case and central death scenarios.

“It is to be deplored that too much online and media coverage of previous IHME predictions has focused on the worst-case scenarios without absolutely clarifying the very broad ranges that the IHME has clearly stated for their British predictions. When these ranges are deliberately omitted (or obscured) by others, who then choose to focus on the worst-case scenarios, it is little more than reckless alarmism. “

It is also unfair to compare countries with very different population density, social mix, demography and family structures. Take the example of Ireland. At noon yesterday, the country had recorded 8,928 cases and 320 deaths. That is 65 deaths per million inhabitants. In contrast, Britain has recorded 78,991 cases and 9,875 deaths, 145 deaths per million. However, the population density of Ireland is lower than that of Great Britain, at around 186 people per square mile, compared to 727 in the United Kingdom. And while 83% of British people live in urban areas, only 63% of Irish people live.

We know that the virus is spread through close contact, so it is not surprising that a country with more people, hugged much closer together, will not only have a higher overall number, but also a higher death rate .

The density of the German population is also lower than that of the United Kingdom, at 623 people per square mile and France, which has always been lower than Great Britain, is only 309 people per square mile.

Only 76% of Germans live in urban areas and 81.5% of French, again less than the United Kingdom. London, which has seen the most cases, is also the largest city in Europe, with nearly nine million inhabitants. On the other hand, Berlin has only 3.7 million and Paris 2.1 million. The median age of citizens is also likely to play a role in the final death figures. The median age of Italy is 47.3 years while that of Ireland is 38.2 years.

We know that the virus disproportionately affects older adults, so those with older populations will no doubt fare worse. The deadliest day reported in Italy was March 28 with 971 deaths, and in Spain April 3 with 950 deaths, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

Compared to the 66 million inhabitants of Great Britain, Italy has around 60 million and Spain 46.94 million. We can therefore expect a drop in the overall figures. Currently, the number of deaths in Italy is 322 per million and 355 in Spain against 145 in Great Britain. It will therefore be interesting to see where the overall mortality rate ends for each country.

Likewise, it may turn out that many of the deaths recorded are not due to “the” coronavirus but “to” the virus, which could reduce mortality rates. The latest report from Intensive Care, National Audit & Research Center, ICNARC, shows that about 89% of people who died from coronavirus never went to intensive care. As of April 9, when the most recent figures were compiled, only 871 patients had died in intensive care out of 7,978 deaths. This suggests that the vast majority of people die in other services, perhaps other conditions.

Regarding the number of cases and deaths, it is also unlikely that we can compare directly with other countries due to differences in registration. Although many have criticized the government for not providing figures on non-hospital deaths, almost no other country has managed to publish a complete picture of the total number of deaths. In Spain, soldiers reported finding bodies abandoned in nursing homes after being called to disinfect the rooms.

In France, almost a third of all coronavirus deaths have occurred in nursing homes, but in Britain, the Office for National Statistics said that about 92% of deaths occur in hospitals.

Hundreds of nursing home deaths have also been reported in Italy and Germany, suggesting that their overall numbers are probably higher than those reported. Until this crisis is over, it is impossible to know where Britain will fall compared to other countries in terms of mortality, but when the final figures are available, it will be crucial to take demography into account. , otherwise we will never see a true picture or understand if the government’s interventions were correct.

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