Ireland has had one of the lowest excess death rates in the world during the Covid-19 pandemic, a major new study has found.
In Europe, only Iceland and Norway performed better than Ireland for excess mortality, seen as a measure of the true toll of the pandemic.
The global death toll in the pandemic could be more than three times higher than official records, according to the first global estimate of excess deaths published in the medical journal The Lancet.
While the official death toll from Covid-19 was 5.9 million between January 1, 2020 and last December 31, the study estimates that an additional 18.2 million deaths occurred during the same period, suggesting that the total impact of the pandemic could have been much greater.
In Ireland, the study estimates that there were 1,170 additional deaths on top of the 5,910 deaths reported from Covid-19 during this period.
The Republic’s estimated excess death rate was 12.5 per 100,000 people, a fraction of the 131.8 recorded in Northern Ireland and 125.8 in England.
Infectious disease consultant Professor Sam McConkey expressed pride that Ireland had done “so well” in the analysis.
“It amounts to a very big ‘well done’ to [chief medical officer] Tony Holohan, our political leaders and the volunteers who brought groceries and food to people in isolation. Also for the collective decision we made to socialize, eat and drink at home or in our gardens, to stay within 2 km, to cut our hair and change workplaces, to stay small groups for births, funerals and weddings and to radically change travel habits. It worked.”
Excess mortality is the difference between the number of recorded deaths from all causes combined and the number expected based on past trends. The new study provides the first peer-reviewed estimates of excess deaths from the pandemic for 191 countries.
Excess death rates are estimated to have varied widely by country and region, with the figures in Latin, Eastern and Central America and parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
In five countries with negative excess mortality – Iceland, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand and Taiwan – fewer people than expected have died during the pandemic.
Researchers from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in the United States say further research is needed to understand the proportion of excess deaths due directly to Covid-19 infection and the indirect effects of the pandemic, including the impact on health services, deaths from other diseases and wider economic impacts.
They also acknowledge a number of limitations to the study, including the use of a statistical model to predict excess deaths in four countries that did not report weekly or monthly death data.