Portugal is part of a group of three European countries where the first wave of the covid-19 pandemic had a “low effect” on the total increase in mortality, concludes a study by researchers at Imperial College London, presented this Wednesday.
According to the study, which analyzes the additional deaths that occurred between mid-February and late May in a total of 21 industrialized countries and published in the journal Nature Medicine, the effect of covid-19 in Portugal was among the lowest in the analyzed universe.
The “low effect” on mortality was felt in Portugal, Austria and Switzerland.
According to the document, coordinated by investigator Majid Ezzati, the covid-19 directly caused 1,396 deaths in Portugal, which, according to the mathematical method used, means an increase in mortality (direct and indirect) of about 2,900 people (in Portugal ) in the period in question and in relation to the usual numbers of previous years.
These figures represent a “mortality surplus” of about 13% in the country.
The analysis identifies four groups of countries according to the total number of deaths in the first wave of the pandemic.
“The first group comprises countries that have avoided a detectable increase in mortality in general and includes Bulgaria, New Zealand, Slovakia, Australia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Norway, Denmark and Finland”, says the study.
The second and third groups of countries “experienced a low to moderate effect of the pandemic on deaths in general and include Austria, Switzerland and Portugal (low effect) and France, the Netherlands and Sweden (moderate effect)”, adds the analysis.
Finally, the fourth group of countries, where mortality increased sharply during the period in question compared to the common values of previous years and which include Belgium, Italy, Scotland, Spain and England and Wales.
In the total of 21 countries, between mid-February and the end of May, there were “about 206,000 more deaths than expected if the covid-19 pandemic had not happened”, concludes this study.
England and Wales, as well as Spain, were the most affected states, with an increase of between 37% and 38% in mortality in relation to the expected levels in the absence of a pandemic – which represents a level well above the average of 18% of the group of countries analyzed.
The list of European countries where the first wave of the pandemic caused the greatest increase in mortality is followed by Italy, Scotland and Belgium.
The study warns that the disease caused by the Sars-Cov-2 virus directly caused more than one million deaths worldwide, according to official counts, but also resulted in indirect deaths, due to social and economic effects and the disruption of systems health (delays in diagnoses, postponement of surgeries, decreased physical activity, increased suicides and intrafamily violence, among other factors).
On the other hand, the decrease in road traffic and the improvement of air quality during confinement prevented some deaths that would have occurred had there not been a pandemic.
Knowledge of these indirect effects is “necessary to understand the real impact of the pandemic in terms of public health”, explain the researchers at Imperial College London.
“This number (206,000) is similar to the total number of deaths from lung cancer and is more than double the deaths linked to diabetes or breast cancer in these countries over an entire year,” said the National Institute for Demographic Studies (INED) , an associate of the study, in a statement released today.
According to the authors, the differences from country to country “reflect variations in the characteristics of the population, in policies, in the response to the pandemic and in the readiness of public health systems”.
“The results of this research work may help to implement public policies that will limit mortality in future waves of the pandemic”, defended INED.
According to one of the authors of the analysis, “the countries that developed effective and comprehensive tests and contact tracking campaigns at the local level, and those that implemented early and effective containment measures had a lower number of deaths during the first wave” of covid- 19.
“At a time when we are entering the second wave, testing and tracking programs and support for people who have to isolate are the most important measure to minimize the impact of the pandemic,” he defended.
Researchers have used mortality data since 2010 in the countries studied to establish how many deaths would normally be recorded in the period in question if the covid-19 pandemic had not occurred.
The comparison between these numbers and the number of deaths actually recorded during this period made it possible to deduce that the surplus to the usual is attributable to covid-19.
The countries chosen for the study were those with a population of over four million and on which the team of researchers had weekly mortality data, broken down by age and sex, since at least 2015.
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