Monday, September 6, 2021

Excess Deaths

It is difficult to comprehend how abject a failure the pandemic response in countries such as the US and the UK has been. Fortunately, The Economist has developed a model estimating excess deaths since the start of the pandemic. Unfortunately, it appears to be behind their paywall. So I have taken the liberty of screen-grabbing a few example graphs.

This graph compares the US and Australia. Had the US handled the pandemic as well as Australia (-17 vs. 250 per 100K), about 885,000 more Americans would be alive today. With a GDP per capita about $63.5K/year, this loses the economy about $56B/year.

This graph compares the UK and New Zealand. Had Boris Johnson handled the pandemic as well as Jacinda Arden (-49 vs. 170), about 149,000 more Britons would be alive today. With a GDP per capita about $42K/year, this loses the economy about $6.3B/year.

A graph is worth a thousand words. Below the fold, a little commentary.

The Economist argues that the true scale of the pandemic can only be determined from excess deaths:
Many people who die while infected with SARS-CoV-2 are never tested for it, and do not enter the official totals. Conversely, some people whose deaths have been attributed to covid-19 had other ailments that might have ended their lives on a similar timeframe anyway. And what about people who died of preventable causes during the pandemic, because hospitals full of covid-19 patients could not treat them? If such cases count, they must be offset by deaths that did not occur but would have in normal times, such as those caused by flu or air pollution.
Their machine-learning model:
estimates excess deaths for every country on every day since the pandemic began. It is based both on official excess-mortality data and on more than 100 other statistical indicators. Our final tallies use governments’ official excess-death numbers whenever and wherever they are available, and the model’s estimates in all other cases.
The model estimates that:
Although the official number of deaths caused by covid-19 is now 4.6m, our single best estimate is that the actual toll is 15.3m people. We find that there is a 95% chance that the true value lies between 9.4m and 18.2m additional deaths.
Excess deaths in the US and the UK are far from the worst, but my point is that countries at a similar level of development have done far better, and so have much less well-resourced countries. Had the US done as well as the model's estimate for China (38 vs. 250) about 702,000 more Americans would be alive today.


David. said...

As of 5 years ago, the US Dept. of Transportation valued a human life at $9.6M. Using this figure we get a total cost of pandemic deaths in the US of $8.5T. This excludes the cost of health care for victims, the pandemic recession, and care from the sufferers of "long COVID".

David. said...

My wording in the previous comment was sloppy. I wrote "total cost of the pandemic". I should have written "total cost of under-performing Australia's pandemic response".

David. said...

For context, the price of 20 years of war in Afghanistan is estimated at $8T. So using the standard value of a life, the pandemic is burning money at a rate more than 10x the Afghan war did.