More than 20.5 million years of life may have been lost to the coronavirus pandemic in 81 countries of the world, according to a new study that exposes the fallacy that those who die would have soon done so even if they had not caught Covid-19.
While Covid deaths are often compared dismissively to those from flu, which kills many elderly and frail individuals every year, the study shows the coronavirus has taken a significantly greater toll. In those countries that are badly affected, the number of years of life lost to Covid is between two and nine times more than from seasonal flu.
Years of life lost is the difference between an individual’s age at death and their life expectancy. Men have fared substantially worse than women – their years of life lost were 44% higher. Even though it is older people who are most at risk of dying in richer countries, the greatest number of years of life lost was among people between the ages of 55 and 75.
The researchers looked at heart disease, which also causes premature death. They found that more years were lost to heart disease than to Covid. However, the toll of excess deaths in countries – the total increase in deaths from year to year – masked an increase in deaths from heart disease also.
Using data on just those deaths confirmed as from Covid-19 underestimated years of life lost by a factor of 3, compared with calculating from excess deaths.
“Variation across countries is large; in Belgium the two approaches deliver comparable results, but for Croatia, Greece and South Korea the excess deaths approach suggests that we may underestimate the YLL [years of life lost] by a factor of more than 12,” they write. “The majority of those years are from individuals with significant remaining life expectancy.”