Research from Loughborough and Sheffield Universities suggests new approach to recording COVID deaths

A new study by academics at the Universities of Loughborough and Sheffield, and economic consultants at Economic Insight, seeks to provide a more statistically robust approach to the question: “How many deaths in England and Wales are due to COVID-19?”.

Currently COVID-associated deaths or excess deaths are used to track the impact of the virus. However these figures may be distorted as to record a COVID-associated death you require only weak evidence that COVID ‘may’ have contributed to the death, and counting excess deaths assumes that any variation in weekly mortality relative to a five year average represents ‘excess’ deaths due to COVID without taking into account other drivers of mortality.

The new study, co-authored by Karligash Glass, Professor of Financial Economics and a respected economic data scientist within Loughborough University’s School of Business and Economics, Professor Anthony Glass (Professor of Managerial Economics, the University of Sheffield), Sam Williams (founder and Director of Economic Insight) and Alasdair Crookes (Consultant at Economic Insight) proposes an enhanced approach to crunching the COVID numbers.

The authors have used statistical techniques to better identify deaths due to COVID, applying the excess death framework more robustly and controlling for other factors that affect mortality. The key findings are as follows:

  • Actual deaths due to COVID are some 54% or 63% lower than implied by the standard excess deaths measure, and reported excess deaths likely include a significant number of non-COVID deaths.
  • While it is well known that COVID deaths are concentrated in the elderly, the study finds them to be particularly acute in the very elderly (75-84 and 85+ years old).
  • Over the lockdown period as a whole Government policy has increased mortality rather than reduced it.

This final finding may be alarming to some, but the authors point out that the lockdown initiative was always intended to ‘flatten the curve’ (delaying the spread to avoid overburdening the NHS) and not necessarily to lower mortality rates. They also assert that the overall increase in mortality is a result of significant unintended consequences of the lockdown, for example, reduced A and E attendances and reduced cancer and cardiac treatments.

Speaking about the new study, Loughborough’s Professor Karligash Glass said: “In addition to providing a new way of measuring the impact of COVID-19, this study raises questions not simply about the efficacy of the blanket lockdown response, but also whether Government communications to encourage public compliance have inadvertently driven other, more harmful, behaviours.”

Professor Karligash Glass and Professor Anthony Glass are also academic associates of Economic Insight, a leading UK economics consultancy.

The paper, ‘An Improved Measure of Deaths due to COVID-19 in England and Wales’, is due to be a published as a working paper on SSRN: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3635548

https://www.lboro.ac.uk/news-events/news/2020/july/new-approach-to-recording-covid-deaths/
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