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As evidence mounts for Covid-19 lockdown causing additional deaths, answers seem no closer

As evidence mounts for Covid-19 lockdown causing additional deaths, answers seem no closer
Around 8,000 more people than usual have died in the UK in their homes since the beginning of the pandemic and four fifths of them from non-Covid causes. Apparently, coronavirus isn’t the only killer on the loose these days.

The Guardian recently conducted their own analysis using data from the Office of National statistics (ONS), the UK government’s statistics department. They found that in total, there have been 8,196 additional deaths above the 5-year average in the UK (not including Northern Ireland, which does not publish their 5-year averages). No fewer than 6,546, or 80 percent, are adjudged to have died of non-Covid conditions.

There has, however, been a fall in the number of people dying from reasons other than Covid in hospitals. There is a strong suggestion that due to coronavirus fears, very sick people are staying away from hospitals and dying in their homes and in care homes in large numbers. In previous years, they would have died in hospital. However, that cannot explain all of the excess deaths, and it seems impossible to deny now that lockdown is having unintended (but perfectly predictable) consequences for public health.

Old news is bad news

The Guardian is late to the party, as excess non-Covid deaths are not a new phenomenon. That the lockdown is killing people has been apparent almost since the beginning, and both the New Statesman and RT reported on it weeks ago. Back then, Dr Jason Oke, a senior statistician in the Oxford University Medical Statistics Group, insisted that there were only two possible reasons for the excess deaths. First, that they are in fact unreported Covid deaths. Or second, that the deaths are being indirectly caused by some aspect of the lockdown.

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At the time, Dr Oke reluctantly used the term ‘collateral damage’ to describe the latter possibility. He repeated that term in conversation with the Guardian, and also restated that it is too early to know which possibility is the true one. But the first option, that people are dying at home of Covid, is difficult to accept. Anyone living at home and experiencing severe Covid-like symptoms is surely reporting to hospital—where intensive care beds and ventilators are available—even if they wouldn’t for any other reason. After all, the reason people are not going to hospital is for fear of catching coronavirus—but if you’ve already got it, why not go?

The exception to this would be care homes, whose residents have been utterly failed by governments. They have been badly hit by the virus, and it is possible that some people are dying there of Covid. But why would they not be registered among the Covid deaths? You do not need to test positive to be included in those figures, nor does Covid even have to be put down as your primary cause of death.

In fact, all that is required is that Covid is mentioned anywhere on your death certificate, and you will be added to the government’s official figures for Covid deaths. We can only assume that is anyone with symptoms even remotely like those of Covid (even weakness – and as Elon Musk tweeted last week, it is ’’Hard to die without feeling weakness!’’).

Inquiries in the pipeline

The UK is not the only country to be seeing this knock-on effect from the coronavirus. A recent report from Italy found that there had been almost 12,000 excess deaths from non-Covid causes since the beginning of their lockdown, many of which were from strokes and heart attacks. 

If accurate, this would represent well over a third of the total number of coronavirus deaths in Italy, if you take their recording system and lack of testing at face value. Clearly, non-Covid deaths are not to be hand-waved away during this outbreak. Those people deserve to be protected just as much as coronavirus patients do.

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When the New Statesman reported on this, the ONS told them that they were conducting “further investigation” into the non-Covid deaths. Furthermore, Professor David Leon, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that the excess deaths in care homes “will undoubtedly be the focus of inquiry over the coming months.” 

That inquiry will have an unenviable task on its hands. So far there is no sign of any results, and it may take months before the full picture finally emerges — the ONS head of health analysis Nick Stripe said that it may even take years. Don’t hold your breath.

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