Just how many people have died of Covid-19, as opposed to having died with the virus? It is a poignant question, especially after it was revealed that Public Health England had been counting a Covid death as anyone who died after testing positive for the virus, even if they swiftly recovered and went on to die of some other cause, like under a proverbial bus. A study by the health authorities in the Östergötland region of south-eastern Sweden aims to answer the question.
The study looks at the cases of 122 people who have died in the region outside of a hospital setting – either at home or in accommodation for the elderly – and whose deaths were attributed to Covid-19. Half of this group were aged 88 or over. Of the 122 cases, 111 were judged to have extensive comorbidities (the presence of one or more additional conditions) and 11 had moderate comorbidities. Not one of those who died, in other words, were in good health. In only 15 per cent of cases was Covid-19 judged to be the direct cause of death. Covid-19 was a contributory cause in 70 per cent of cases, and in the remaining 15 per cent death was judged to have been caused by another underlying cause – most often heart disease. The study can be read here, in Swedish.
Debate continues to rage over the rights and wrongs of the Swedish approach to Covid-19 – whether the refusal to lock down helped stave off economic disaster, or whether it led to thousands of needless deaths; whether it helped Swedes gain a degree of herd immunity to Covid-19, or whether the country remains as exposed to a second wave of the disease as any other nation. The analysis in Östergötland covers a small sample of people but provides some enlightenment on the nature of the deaths recorded by Sweden during the epidemic. It confirms what has been evident elsewhere: many of those recorded as dying of the virus already had short life expectancies due to underlying health conditions, and a small percentage of those deaths had nothing to do with Covid at all – the death would have occurred anyway from another illness, whether the deceased had contracted the virus or not.