The Covid-19 pandemic has caused the biggest drop in life expectancy in the world since World War II

“We are at war, ” Emmanuel Macron declared on March 16, 2020, when the first confinement was announced. He didn’t think so well put it. According to a study by the University of Oxford, the pandemic of Covid-19 led to the biggest drop in life expectancy since the Second World War. In 2020, life expectancy fell by more than six months compared to 2019 in 22 of the 29 countries analyzed in the study. Coronavirus has erased years of progress in declining global mortality, States the authors of the study. The largest declines were observed among men in the United States and Lithuania, where men lost their life expectancy by 2.2 years and 1.7 years, respectively. “But reductions of more than a year have been documented in eleven countries for men and eight for women,” said José Manuel Aburton, the study’s lead author. To contextualize, it took an average of 5.6 years for these countries to achieve a one-year increase in life expectancy. Progress was erased in one stroke during the year 2020 by the Covid-19. 

People over 60, big losers from the epidemic

The decline is also notable compared to 2015, a year when life expectancy had already been affected due to a particularly deadly flu epidemic. “The fact that our results highlight such a significant impact directly attributable to Covid-19 shows how it was a devastating shock for many countries”, attests Dr. Ridhi Kashyap, co-author of the article.

The mortality due to Covid-19 is more pronounced in men than in women, especially in people over 60, who have been most affected by severe forms of the disease. However, “it was precisely these age groups that had greatly contributed to the improvement in life expectancy in recent years,” observes the authors. The United States is an exception to this rule, however, in this country: “it is the increase in mortality among those under 60 that has contributed the most to the decline in life expectancy,” . This is explained in particular by significant comorbid factors in these age groups ( diabetes, obesity…). Note that a few countries have nevertheless escaped this sad fate: women in Finland and both sexes in Denmark and Norway, where life expectancy continued to increase between 2019 and 2020.

Three times more deaths than seasonal flu

To date, it is estimated that more than 4.7 million people have died worldwide from Covid-19, including 1.8 million in 2020. By comparison, seasonal flu kills between 290,000 and 650,000 people per year, according to the WHO. “ In addition, not only has the pandemic directly killed millions of people, but it has also indirectly contributed to increased mortality from other causes of death, for example, due to delayed treatment or the avoidance of the disease. Seeking care for cancer or cardiovascular disease, the study emphasizes.

In April, another French study had also calculated the impact of the Covid-19 epidemic in 65 countries and found excess mortality of 51.6% in Latin America in 2019-2020, 23.2% in North America, and 17.8% in Europe. A study published in Nature in February pointed out that the Covid pandemic had caused humanity to lose 20.5 million years of life. It remains to be seen how long it will take us to “recover” from all these wasted years.

Covid-19: a million “excess” deaths in developed countries

A recent epidemiological study published in the British Medical Journal took stock of the excess mortality attributable to Covid-19 in 2020 in 29 developed countries. According to the latter, there are almost a million deaths “in excess” in this year alone.

During this pandemic, we could hear that the Covid-19 was the flu” that did not kill that many people or that the people who had died would have died anyway. An epidemiological study, published in the British Medical Journal, suggests that the absolute number of excess mortality in 2020 from the pandemic is between 945,000 and one million people.

A global assessment

In order to assess the overall impact of the pandemic on mortality, the statisticians and epidemiologists mobilized for this study measured the excess mortality by calculating the difference between the number of deaths from all causes, which occurred during the pandemic and the expected number of deaths based on a baseline history of past years. This makes it possible to avoid certain methodological biases and to take into account all the consequences of the pandemic and not only infection with Covid-19 as a necessary and sufficient cause of mortality. 

Excess mortality in – almost – all countries

With the exception of New Zealand, Denmark, and Norway, all the countries taken into account in the statistical analysis show an excess of mortality in 2020. These mainly concern people over the age of sixty-five, mostly male, in almost all of the countries, studied. A decrease in mortality has been observed among young people under the age of fifteen. The excess mortality generally occurred during spring, autumn and winter. Unfortunately, scientists did not have enough data to determine excess mortality based on other important factors such as socioeconomic level.

Finally, in their study, the researchers find that in some countries, excess mortality is greater than the number of reported cases of Covid-19. This may be due to people who have died from the side effects of the pandemic on healthcare systems, but it also suggests that the number of known cases is generally lower than the number of actual cases. 

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