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SSM - Population Health ; : 101118, 2022.
Article in English | ScienceDirect | ID: covidwho-1821485


Excess mortality has been used to measure the impact of COVID-19 over time and across countries. But what baseline should be chosen? We propose two novel approaches: an alternative retrospective baseline derived from the lowest weekly death rates achieved in previous years and a within-year baseline based on the average of the 13 lowest weekly death rates within the same year. These baselines express normative levels of the lowest feasible target death rates. The excess death rates calculated from these baselines are not distorted by past mortality peaks and do not treat non-pandemic winter mortality excesses as inevitable. We obtained weekly series for 35 industrialized countries from the Human Mortality Database in 2000–2020. Observed, baseline and excess mortalities were measured by age-standardized death rates. We assessed weekly and annual excess death rates driven by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and those related to seasonal (predominantly) respiratory infections in earlier years. There was a distinct geographic pattern with high excess death rates in Eastern Europe followed by parts of the UK, and countries of Southern and Western Europe. Some Asia-Pacific and Scandinavian countries experienced lower excess mortality. In 2020 and earlier years, the alternative retrospective and the within-year excess mortality figures were higher than estimates based on conventional metrics. While the latter were typically negative or close to zero in “normal” years without extraordinary epidemics, the alternative estimates were substantial. Cumulation of this usual excess over 2–3 years results in human losses comparable to those caused by COVID-19. Challenging the view that non-pandemic seasonal winter mortality is inevitable would focus attention on reducing premature mortality in many countries. As SARS-CoV-2 is unlikely to be the last respiratory pathogen with the potential to cause a pandemic, such measures would also strengthen global resilience in the face of similar threats in the future.

SSM Popul Health ; 17: 101006, 2022 Mar.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-1586469


Background: Russia has been portrayed in media as having one of the highest death tolls due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the world. However, the precise scale of excess mortality is still unclear. We provide the first estimates of excess mortality in Russia as a whole and its regions in 2020, placing this in an international context. Methods: We used monthly death rates for Russia and 83 regions plus the equivalent for 36 comparator countries. Expected mortality was derived in two ways using averages in the same months in preceding years and the same averages adjusted for secular trends. Excess death rates were estimated for the whole year and the last 3 quarters. We also estimated the relationships between excess mortality and reported COVID-19 cases and deaths across countries and Russian regions. Results: Estimating excess deaths rates based on the trend-adjusted average, Russia had the highest excess mortality of any of the 37 countries considered. Using the simple average, Russia had the third highest. Most of the excess deaths were recorded in the 4th quarter of 2020 and the level and trajectory of excess mortality in Russia and most of Eastern European countries differed from that in Western countries. While both the cumulative number of COVID-19 cases and deaths showed positive correlations with excess mortality across countries (r=0.65 and r=0.75, p<0.001), the association across the Russian regions was, surprisingly, negative for cases (r=-0.34, p<0.01) and deaths (r=-0.09, p=0.42). When we replaced reported deaths with final data from death certificates the correlation was positive (r=0.38, p<0.001). Conclusion: Russia has one of the largest absolute burden of excess mortality in 2020 but there is a counter-intuitive negative association between excess mortality and cumulative incidence at the regional level. Under-recording of COVID-19 cases seems to be a problem in some regions.