Fewer UK deaths from Dec 2019 to March 2020 despite pandemic

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, scientists have found that there were fewer deaths recorded in the UK from the end of December 2019 until the end of March 2020 in comparison to the previous five years, including in the subgroup assessment of respiratory mortality rates.

The researchers from University of Warwick analysed the mortality statistics in the UK during the initial phases of the severe acute respiratory coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic to understand the impact of the pandemic on national mortality figures.

They did this by carrying out a retrospective review of weekly national mortality statistics in the UK over the previous 5 years, including subgroup assessment of respiratory mortality rates, from the end of November until the end of March.

The analysis found that during the first months of 2020, when the early phases of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic was apparent in the UK, there were consistently fewer deaths each week compared with the previous five years.

The researchers called this the SARS-CoV-2 Paradox.

They proposed that the reason why the death rate was lower during the early stages of the pandemic in comparison to previous years could be due to social distancing.

While the government enforced social distancing in the middle of March, some had already engaged with this, especially higher risk groups/elderly, leading to a reduction in the mixing of those with infectious diseases including, but not exclusive of, SARS-CoV-2.

It could also be due to the emphasised importance of washing hands, staying home when you feel unwell and coughing or sneezing into a tissue. This is likely to reduce the number of cases of other infectious disease and, also, slow the spread of various infectious diseases.

Finally, iatrogenic mortality may be reduced, as hospital admission numbers have reduced; and there may thus be a reduction in the spread of hospital-acquired infections, such as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Similarly, reductions in elective surgery (in order to prepare intensive care and hospital bed capacity) may result in fewer iatrogenic deaths.

“Social distancing measures are likely to impact the spread of all infectious diseases, despite their target being a reduction in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 virus. This lack of disease spread could be causing a reduction in death rate,” said Professor Theo Arvanitis, from the Institute of Digital Healthcare at WMG, University of Warwick.

“Another factor could be concerns around the virus, which could mean people are making more conscious health decisions in terms of eating, exercise, reducing smoking and resting, when they feel unwell, or seeking advice from 111 about their symptoms.”

The findings were published in the Journal of International Medical Research.