Actual Covid-19 deaths in Europe may have been worse than reported in the first wave, data shows
Europe overrated the distance from China and underestimated the significance of Covid-19 this spring. European countries were severely hit by the virus when none of them was really prepared and the CFR (Case Fatality Rate) surpassed 15% in some countries including the UK. However, data shows that it was probably even worse than the official record.
As I’ve referred to this before, I would like to mention the excess death data again. It is the statistics compiled by Financial Times of the excess deaths about 24 countries and regions (My previous article based on this data is here.). They defined the excess deaths as the gap of the actual deaths from the median value of the data for the equivalent period in years from 2015 to 2019. If more people died this week compared to the equivalent week of the past years, the value becomes positive, vice versa. The excess deaths cover all-cause deaths, so the deaths from car accidents and the deaths from Covid-19 are all included. If I pick up the 3 European countries that were severely hit by Covid-19, we see their excess deaths soared almost 45% higher than the official Covid-19 deaths at average.
The line chart above shows the excess deaths (blue) and the official Covid-19 deaths (red) in Italy, which had its first encounter with Covid-19 in Europe. Even though their excess deaths were decreasing toward March, after Covid-19 deaths started being confirmed, excess deaths emerged. By May 3rd, 2020, when the newest data is available, the excess deaths grew higher than the official Covid-19 deaths by up to 37%. As Italian authorities admitted, not all the Covid-19 deaths were properly counted because they could not be diagnosed before the death. The actual CFR could be higher than the official record.
The chart above represents the excess deaths (blue) and the official Covid-19 deaths (red) in Spain. Spain is now having the worst resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe now but in the first wave, the gap of the excess deaths was also significant. The excess deaths, which were below 0 in the beginning of 2020, started rising as Covid-19 deaths soared. By June 7th, 2020 when the latest data is available, Spain had the excess deaths larger than the official Covid-19 deaths by up to 55%. We do not know how much of these were actually the unregistered Covid-19 deaths, but directly or indirectly, this is what Covid-19 caused as we can see in the trends of the two curves.
The last chart I’m going to represent in this article is about the excess deaths (blue) and the official Covid-19 deaths (red) in the UK. We can tell the UK had their peak slightly later than Italy and Spain, but by June 14th, 2020, the excess deaths surpassed the Covid-19 deaths by almost 44%, and the gap seems to be growing.
All of these 3 countries admitted they left a part of the Covid-19 deaths unregistered due to the overcapacity of their medical force. However, the CFR computed in such a circumstance is publicly admitted and recognized as the official mortality rate of Covid-19 in those European countries. There are countries that kept the excess deaths lower than the Covid-19 deaths. Belgium is known to have counted deaths as Covid-19 deaths if the person had contact with an already diagnosed person before the death. They had the Covid-19 deaths surpassing the excess deaths in May, while Netherlands had the excess deaths surpassing the Covid-19 deaths by 43% just like the UK.
Most European countries are hit by the second wave now. The excess deaths data would be a powerful tool to measure the actual impact of the infection but those countries have not updated the data after July for unexplained reasons.