Study: Countries with earlier lockdowns, better preparations had fewer COVID-19 deaths

The streets of downtown London are near empty after Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed a national lockdown from the rapidly spreading coronavirus pandemic on March 27. File Photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI

Oct. 15 (UPI) — The developed countries with the lowest per capita death tolls from the COVID-19 pandemic went into lockdown early and had better prepared national health systems in place ahead of time, an analysis released Wednesday indicates.

The study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, said having better prevention measures and the ability to treat the sick without overwhelming medical resources was key to preventing a higher death toll.

A group of scientists from universities across the globe studied the excess deaths of 21 developed countries to determine which have fared better during the pandemic.

Excess deaths are those that occur above what each country would normally expect in a given time period. Public health officials use this information to gauge the impact of disease outbreaks and mitigation efforts on the population of a country.

The researchers determined there were about 206,000 excess deaths in the 21 countries — 19 European states plus Australia and New Zealand — from mid-February through May.

The number of excess deaths for all 21 countries is about 23% higher than the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19. This could be explained by unreported cases of the virus and delayed treatment for other illnesses due to a reluctance to go to the hospital during lockdown, the study said.

Per capita, Spain was the hardest hit by excess deaths during this period, an increase of 38%. England and Wales had a 37% increase, while Bulgaria, New Zealand, Slovakia, Australia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Norway, Denmark and Finland had either a decline in deaths or an increase of less than 5%.

“The heterogeneous mortality effects of the COVID-19 pandemic reflect differences in how well countries have managed the pandemic and the resilience and preparedness of the health and social care system,” the study says.

The study said demographics in the countries could explain some of the differences in excess deaths — age and existing co-morbidities — but the government’s handling of containing the virus also factored in.

Britain, for example, went into lockdown later than the other countries and limited test and trace efforts because it lacked the capacity, The Guardian reported.

Scientists at the Imperial College London, which participated in the study, said the research could serve as a warning for countries amid a predicted second wave of the coronavirus.

“As we enter the second wave, test and trace programs, and supporting people who need to isolate, are our most important lever to minimize the impact of the pandemic on direct COVID-19 deaths and deaths from other conditions,” said Dr. Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard, a co-author of the study.


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