London: Nearly 1 million extra deaths relating to the COVID-19 pandemic occurred in 29 high income countries in 2020, finds a study published by The BMJ on Thursday.
The US with 458,000 deaths topped the list, followed by the UK (94,400), Italy (89,100), Spain (84,100), and Poland (60,100).
Overall, an estimated 979,000 total excess deaths occurred in 2020 in the 29 countries analysed. Except for Norway, Denmark and New Zealand, all other countries examined had more deaths than expected in 2020, particularly in men.
The study by a team of international researchers, led by Nazrul Islam from the Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, set out to estimate the direct and indirect effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on mortality in 2020 in 29 high income countries.
Using a mathematical model, they calculated weekly excess deaths in 2020 for each country, accounting for age and sex differences between countries, and also for seasonal and yearly trends in mortality over the five preceeding years.
The total number of excess deaths was largely concentrated among people aged 75 or older, followed by people aged 65-74, while deaths in children under 15 were similar to expected levels in most countries and lower than expected in some countries.
In most countries, age-specific excess death rates were higher in men than in women, and the absolute difference in rates between the sexes tended to increase with age. However, in the US, the excess death rate was higher among women than men in those aged 85 years or older.
The study “adds important insights on the direct and indirect effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on total mortality”, the researchers said.
“Reliable and timely monitoring of excess deaths would help to inform public health policy in investigating the sources of excess mortality in populations and would help to detect important social inequalities in the impact of the pandemic to inform more targeted interventions,” they added.