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More than 20 million years of life may have been lost due to Covid-19 – study

By Nina Massey
Every person who has died from coronavirus lost 16 years of their life on average – and more than 20.5 million years may have been lost in total across the world, new figures suggest.

Years of life lost (YLL) is the difference between an individual’s age at death and their life expectancy.

Researchers suggest that in countries heavily affected by Covid-19, the YYL may be two to nine times higher than YLL due to average seasonal flu.

They estimated the figures using data on more than 1,279,866 deaths in 81 countries, as well as life expectancy data and projections for total deaths of Covid-19 by country.

Hector Pifarre i Arolas, of the Pompeu Fabra University, Spain, and colleagues, estimate that in total, 20,507,518 years of life may have been lost due to Covid-19 in the 81 countries included in this study, some 16 years per individual death.

The study, published in Scientific Reports, suggests that 44.9% of the YLL have occurred in people aged between 55 and 75.

While 30.2% occurred in individuals younger than 55, and 25% in those older than 75.

In countries for which death counts by gender were available, YLL was 44% higher in men than in women, researchers found.

The authors caution that the results need to be understood in the context of an ongoing pandemic, and that they only provide a snapshot of the possible impacts of coronavirus on years of life lost
They highlight the data may be over or under-estimates due to the difficulty of accurately recording Covid-related deaths.

Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics, The Open University, said: “This is a valuable piece of research, not least because it looks at the impact of the pandemic globally, so not just in high-income countries like the UK.

“However, the results can’t show the whole picture. That’s mostly because of limitations in the available data.
“Most of the analysis is based on counts of deaths, at different ages, that have been attributed to Covid-19, but the way deaths are attributed to Covid-19 isn’t consistent across countries and is considerably less complete in some places than others.

“Also, most of the results reported here can’t take into account deaths that arose indirectly because of Covid – for instance, deaths because health services were overwhelmed and couldn’t deal with other illnesses so well – or non-Covid deaths that might have been avoided because lockdowns reduced other infections as well as the new coronavirus.”

But he added that the data provides a broad picture that is far from misleading.

Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said: “This study shows the staggering scale of the human cost of this pandemic.

“Every one of those deaths is a tragedy for a family, but this paper highlights the combined cost of the pandemic so far in terms of lives cut significantly shorter by a virus that kills people earlier than seasonal flu, or even heart disease.

“These data offer more insight than merely looking at the average age of death from Covid-19 in order to weigh it against the economic cost of restrictions.

“Policy decisions made on the basis that Covid-19 mostly kills people with few years of life left, fail to properly appreciate the full impact of Covid-19 mortality.”

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