Curiouser and curiouser.  The Central Statistics Office has now issued an updated analysis of deaths in Ireland and they’ve reported excess deaths during the Covid crisis as in a range “between 2,034 and 2,338”. 

This means that, even allowing for the fact that the analysis covers a period of time which is straddling two winter peaks in terms of excess deaths, the number of those deaths is considerably less than would reasonably have been anticipated from NPHET figures.

NPHET says that, as of today, 4,903 people have died in this country with Covid. RTÉ’s Primetime last week claimed that their calculations showed some 3,200 excess deaths due to the virus.

Now the CSO, using information gleaned from RIP.ie, which is as close to a real-time database of deaths as this country gets, says the number is much smaller: between 2,034 and 2,338 excess deaths.

The CSO uses the timeframe of the Covid crisis – from March 2020 to February 2020 – to make its calculations, much as RTE did previously. While this is understandable – it is the 12 months period in which the virus has held the country to ransom – it is an inescapable fact that in choosing that time frame two peaks of virus-related deaths are recorded.

Usually deaths peak at some point between December and April period because of winter viruses, generally flu. In 2020, that peak happened in March/April – so adding that peak to the winter peak of January/February 2021 naturally inflates the number of deaths being considered to calculate an excess.

Of course, everyone of those deaths is a real person, loved and missed by their families. The tragic loss of their lives is not disputed, nor is the sorrow felt by their loved ones. What should be questioned however is how the pandemic was used to justify a lengthy and massively harmful lockdown when the numbers seem to show that the excess deaths were, in fact, no worse than a bad flu season.

As commentator Ivor Cummins has pointed out, excess deaths also climbed in 2017 when we experienced a nasty and virulent outbreak of flu.

The CSO’s findings, and the lower level of excess deaths than might have been expected from NPHET’s reports, underline an important distinction that has not been pointed out in all sorts of reporting – from the media, the health authorities and elsewhere. That’s the distinction between those dying because of the effects of the virus, and those who were already sick, perhaps dying and who happened to also contract Covid.

In fact, the phrase ‘with Covid’ is now the cause of some controversy, with a leading Coroner recently saying that the figures given by Nphet at Covid-19 press briefings on the number of deaths from the virus “may be inaccurate”. Mayo Coronor, Patrick O’Connor, said that there were cases where Covid was being recorded as the principal cause of death when a person was already terminally ill.

The CSO analysis notes that “estimates of excess mortality look at all causes of mortality during a period of observation” and that “COVID-19 confirmed deaths include people who died with and of COVID-19”.

Previously, the CSO reported that it did not appear Covid-19 had caused a large increase in recorded deaths in the first six months of the crisis – with figures released in November showing the number of deaths between March and September 2020 were “broadly in line” with mortality statistics from previous years. It  also appears that, from CSO data, when 2020 is examined as a stand-alone 12 month period, there are in fact, no excess deaths. Some observers, of course, will argue that the expected deaths never materiialised because of the hard lockdown – others counter that studies show full lockdowns were unnecessary and focused protection would serve society better.

In regard to what government actions really matter, the CSO in this new analysis also makes another telling observation, one which should remind us that while we’ve been distracted by doom-laden news reporting of Covid cases, the really shocking and disturbing events were happening in our nursing homes because of government inaction and failures.

There were “significant increases in death notices which mentioned older persons’ facilities as the place of death in January and February 2021” – something which had also happened in April 2020 – the CSO noted.

The question which should now be a matter of public inquiry is whether the excess deaths – even as calculated with two peaks – would be a considerably smaller number if the government had taken care of those who were actually most vulnerable to Covid-19. Elderly people in nursing homes were shockingly abandoned by the same politicians rushing to make speeches or post on social media telling a frightened population to stay home because we were “all in this together”. Disgracefully, at least 2,000 of the recorded deaths ‘with Covid’ have taken place in nursing homes.

One final comment: in calculating ‘average deaths’ neither the CSO nor RTÉ seems to have taken account that the number of deaths in Ireland is increasing steadily as a result of population growth. CSO says “a simple method that has been used to calculate excess mortality gives a range of three different values. We calculate the death notices we would have expected to see during the period of March 2020 – February 2021 in the absence of the pandemic as: the same as the number of death notices in the previous year; the average of the last 2 years; or the average of the last 3 years.

“The expected numbers of death notices are subtracted from the observed numbers to arrive at the excess mortality,” they explain. If they are, in fact, accounting for the growth in deaths when calculating a comparative average to use as a basis to calculate expected mortality, they haven’t made that clear.

Covid-19 is real, and it is nasty and life-threatening. But there needs to be a serious examination of the consequences of how this government chose to deal with it and what it inflicted on our people.

We were told at the outset of this never-ending lockdown, by one of RTÉ’s favourite experts, Dr Sam McConkey, that up to 120,000 people could die in Ireland from the Covid-19 outbreak. That never happened. But the numbers are showing that focused protection of the vulnerable, rather than a damaging lockdown, might have been a better response.

The people who made those decisions can’t hide from the numbers forever. A reckoning is coming.