Covid-19: Ireland had one of lowest excess death rates in world, study finds

Lancet journal research estimates global death toll three times higher than official records

Ireland recorded one of the lowest rates of excess deaths in the world during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a major new study.

In Europe, only Iceland and Norway performed better than Ireland for excess mortality, regarded as a measure of the true death toll of the pandemic.

The global death toll in the pandemic may be more than three times higher than official records, according to the first global estimate of excess deaths published in The Lancet medical journal.

While the official Covid-19 death toll was 5.9 million between January 1st, 2020, and last December 31st, the study estimates 18.2 million excess deaths occurred over the same period, suggesting the full impact of the pandemic may have been far greater.

In Ireland, the study estimates there were an additional 1,170 excess deaths* from all causes over the period in which 5,910 Covid-19 deaths were recorded.

The Republic's estimated excess mortality rate was 12.5 per 100,000 people, a fraction of the 131.8 recorded in Northern Ireland and 125.8 in England.

Infectious diseases consultant Prof Sam McConkey expressed pride that Ireland had “done so well” in the analysis.

"This amounts to a a really big 'well done' to [chief medical officer] Tony Holohan, our political leaders and the volunteers who brought shopping and food to those isolating. Also for the collective decision we made to socialise, eat and drink at home or in our gardens, stay within 2km, cut our own hair and change our workplace, stay in small groups for births, funerals and weddings and change travel habits dramatically. It worked."

Further research

Excess deaths is the difference between the number of recorded deaths from all causes and the number expected based on past trends. The new study provides the first peer-reviewed estimates of excess deaths due to the pandemic for 191 countries.

Rates of excess deaths are estimated to have varied dramatically by country and region, with the figures in Latin America, eastern and central and parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

In five countries with negative excess mortality – Iceland, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand and Taiwan – fewer people than might have been expected died during the pandemic.

The researchers from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in the US say further research is needed to understand the proportion of excess deaths due directly to Covid-19 infection and the indirect effects of the pandemic, including the impact on health care services, deaths from other diseases, and wider economic impacts.

They also acknowledge a number of limitations to the study, including the use of a statistical model to predict excess deaths four country that did not report weekly or monthly data on deaths.

*This article was amended on March 11th, 2022

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times

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