“The data is extremely favorable,” Premier John Horgan said last week. “The second closest to jurisdictions our size, to five million people in North America, the second closest to low death rates is Ontario, and their death rate is double that of ours.
Horgan, Health Minister Adrian Dix and government press releases all mentioned the official death toll in British Columbia compared to other provinces, states and countries in Western Europe with more than five million people. .
This very specific response is based on a very specific graph – a graph produced by CBC News since the start of the pandemic, measuring the official number of deaths in highly populated jurisdictions that were affected by the first wave at around the same time. .
It’s a rudimentary measure, and all countries have different ways of collecting data, but it shows a big gap between British Columbia and dozens of other comparable places.
But what if these numbers don’t give the full picture?
A report released last week by the Royal Society of Canada compared the number of official deaths from COVID-19 in each province between February 1 and November 28, 2020, with excess deaths – essentially the difference between the total number deaths and the number that was expected based on past years.
The study, which was adjusted for overdose deaths, found that British Columbia had an additional 1,767 deaths that had not been counted during that time period.
“They occurred outside of situations where you have professionals with a legal obligation to report to alert [the province to] death and then have a formal cause-determination process. And you can imagine that means that a lot of those dead were people who probably died very quickly in their homes, ”said Nora Loreto, a freelance journalist and one of the authors of the report.
“Especially at the start of the pandemic, it would have been very easy to miss people dying from COVID. “
If all of this was due to COVID-19, but not reported as such, it would still place British Columbia below Quebec and Ontario, every major state and the vast majority of countries in Western Europe. But that wouldn’t make British Columbia such an outlier, nor perhaps praise-worthy in the international media.
“You can imagine that British Columbia has a collection of public health and political figures who take great pride in [its official deaths figures], even though the pandemic was quite severe, ”Loreto said.
« [But] for anyone who has seen someone die suddenly in the past 18 months, and who thought the death could have been a COVID death, and they haven’t done a test and they couldn’t be sure, j ‘imagine that would be very important to them. ”
‘Grain of salt’
The province, unsurprisingly, disputed the report.
“We have to take the exam with a grain of salt,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer. “I don’t agree with what the report published, and I think… they made assumptions. “
While Dr Henry said all sudden and unexpected deaths are tested for COVID, contrary to Loreto’s claims, she also admitted that “there are definitely deaths that we missed early on” due to the low number of tests and low initial capacity to follow cases in the first wave.
But she didn’t provide more details, and Loreto said if British Columbia was to accurately refute the study, it would have to provide specific data on COVID testing after death, and why the excess death data are behind the province.
“We don’t have the most complete picture possible,” she said.
“It’s one thing for public health officials to say take this with a grain of salt, and it’s quite another for us to look at the data and go … why are the death reports in this? province so slow, while it is not so slow in other parts of the world? ”
What is beyond debate is that British Columbia lags many other places on data transparency during much of the pandemic, which continues to fuel questions. And while the province has been more successful in containing transmission than some jurisdictions, there is always room for improvement.
“Compared to other places in the world, like East Asia and so on, we’re doing a lot worse. Compared to places in Europe, we are doing better, ”said Dr. Srinivas Murthy, infectious disease specialist in British Columbia. Children’s hospital.
“It’s quite a spectrum, and I think understanding why we’re in the middle and what we could have done better would be a great conversation going forward. “