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Covid has wiped ‘at least a year’ off UK life expectancy, finds study


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Life expectancy has fallen in the UK as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic, a study has found.

There were 62,750 excess deaths in the first 10 months of the pandemic in England and Wales, say Oxford University researchers who compared figures over the past decade.

Their analysis from when the first death was reported in March 2020 to the end of the year also found that gains made in life expectancy over the past 10 years have been wiped out by the impact of Covid-19.

The figures differ slightly from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) statistics on excess deaths which compares data over a five-year period but underpin the ‘tragic impact’ of the pandemic, the researchers said.

It comes as the UK became the first country in Europe to surpass 100,000 deaths.

The Oxford analysis published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found an 15.1% increase in deaths compared with the expected level.

And that life expectancy was cut for men and women by 1.3 and 1.0 years respectively.

Study author Dr Ridhi Kashyap said: ‘As the nation reels from the shocking news that the number of deaths in the UK, for which Covid-19 is listed on the death certificate, has exceeded 100,000, our research provides further understanding of the tragic impact of the pandemic in England and Wales.

‘Our calculations show almost 63,000 more people died in the first 10 months of the pandemic in England and Wales than would usually be expected to die from any cause between March and December. This elevated mortality significantly reduced life expectancy in 2020.’

The initial calculations by the team used data up until the November before the current spike in cases and found more than 57,419 excess deaths in England and Wales. When they extended the timeframe to the end of December they found another 5,000 excess deaths in a matter of weeks.

Men experienced higher death rates than women and older adults accounted for most excess deaths.

The number of deaths among middle-aged adults and younger retired people, between 45–64 and 64–74 years of age were respectively 17.6% and 16.0% above the baseline, the researchers said with no excess deaths in the under 15 age group.

It is a particularly sad fact is that life expectancy for both men and women reduced by over a year in 2020, wiping out gains made on life expectancy in the past decade, the team said.

Dr Kashyap added: ‘The magnitude of these losses in life expectancy are especially significant given that over the course of the 20th century we saw increases in life expectancy in England and Wales of nearly three years every decade.

‘While there has been a slowdown in improvements in life expectancy since 2010, with a dip in 2015 in particular due to a bad flu season, the fall that we saw over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic is truly unprecedented.’