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Huge spike in excess deaths not attributable to Covid

Ireland has experienced a large spike in excess deaths which is not primarily due to the Covid-19 virus, new estimates released this week indicate.

Christmas of 2022 was deadlier than any other Christmas in the past 5 years, including the two Christmases under the pandemic. The number of deaths for this period was almost a third higher than what is typically expected for that time of year.

Excess deaths — the number of deaths above the norm during a particular period — were 30% higher during this time than the pre-pandemic average of 2016 to 2019.

Comparatively, the peak excess deaths during the deadliest point in the pandemic was around 40% above average.

However, while Covid-19 can be blamed for the excess deaths in recent years, it does not appear to be the primary cause of death this time.

There were only 191 Covid-19-related deaths reported since the 1st of December 2022 – amounting to less than a fifth of the excess deaths during this period. This indicates that other factors are driving the surge.

Back at the end of January 2021, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the seven-day rolling average of deaths was 156. This was deemed so severe that it prompted the government to initiate a six-month lockdown in an effort to curb it.

Now this year, the weekly average of January 9th 2023 was 152 – almost as high as the 2021 figure. And moreover, the deaths data has still not fallen dramatically, which may indicate that it hasn’t peaked yet and could continue to rise further.

All of this is according to Seamus Coffey, an economics lecturer with University College Cork, who analysed death notices on the website RIP.ie. This website, while not an official government source, quickly tallies death figures nationally, and often matches closely with the CSO’s figures which can take three months to be reported.

According to the CSO itself:

“Comparing CSO data with RIP.ie death notices for 2016 and 2017 showed a strong correlation of over 99%. This indicates that the number of death notices on RIP.ie can be used to accurately indicate trends in mortality.”

However, Coffey warned that the figures are estimates that come with a margin of error as high as 5%.

“It is an early estimate of excess mortality,” he said, as reported by the Times this week.

“But the fit is pretty good. The monthly estimate for excess deaths December is 30% higher than the norm. Even if the true figure for December 2022 is 25% higher, that would still be the second highest since the start of 2020.”

Many other countries have also experienced a surge in excess deaths, including the UK.

However, according to the Times, University of Bristol professor Gabriel Scally called Ireland’s figures “very bad” in comparison to the UK.

The Times article posits several suggestions as to what could be behind the surge, including backlogs for treatments delayed by the lockdown, late diagnoses, hospital waiting list times, a bad Covid-19 and flu season, and more.

Notably, on November 29th 2022 it was reported that Ireland’s cancer survival rates are higher than ever.

Reacting to the news, Aontú demanded a “full investigation” into the increases, adding that “Shockingly, no other political party is questioning this.”

Previously, party leader Peadar Toibín TD tweeted that he had asked the Health Surveillance Unit about the large increase in Q2 deaths in 2022, and was told that they were deaths from 2021 which were being registered on a delayed basis due to the HSE cyber attack.

“We need a proper investigation on what’s happening,” Toibín said.

 

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