On Monday, the World Health Organization warned that the death toll in Europe likely to increase in the coming months. The warning comes a day after the WHO reported the largest increase in corona infection in a single day, with 307,930 new registered cases.
But the warning also comes at a time when many have noticed that corona deaths in Europe have remained low – despite the sharp increase in infection.
Figures from it European Infection Control Agency (ECDC) shows that the death toll in Europe has remained stable for well over two months.
This is how assistant health director Espen Nakstad and FHI chief physician Preben Aavitsland explain the sensational death graph.
– Three-part explanation
– The reason is probably threefold, Nakstad says to Dagbladet.
The first reason, he believes, is that you pick up a larger number of dark numbers with the increased test capacity.
– By now testing far more people than before, you thus catch more of them with mild disease that previously constituted “dark numbers”. This contributes to the fact that the proportion of deaths among all covid-19-positive people, so-called “case fatality rate”, is lower.
Secondly, Nakstad believes that a larger proportion of younger people test positive than before.
– These usually get mild illness and do not contribute to as many hospital admissions as older people, says Nastad.
Aavitsland also highlights the age as a common denominator of those who have largely been infected recently.
– The local outbreaks that have been here in Norway in recent weeks have mainly affected young people and young adults, and people at that age almost never get a serious course or die of coronary heart disease. Therefore, we now see few hospitalizations and deaths. This can change if the outbreaks eventually spread to the elderly or to the nursing homes, says Aavitsland to Dagbladet.
The third factor Nakstad believes contributes to reduced mortality is that people in the risk groups are good at protecting themselves. Therefore, they are not hit as hard as a group, compared to the situation in March and April.
Does not rule out mutations
Recently, some have argued that the coronavirus has become less deadly since the worst pandemic.
Senior statistician at the University of Oxford, Jason Oke, is among those who have pointed out that the death toll in England has fallen by as much as 55-80 percent, depending on which figures are used.
– This does not seem to be the same deadly disease that we saw earlier, when we saw a large number of people who died, he says to the science magazine NewScientists.
Nakstad believes we can not rule out that virus mutations over time could contribute to changing infectivity and morbidity among people who get covid-19.
The risk of such virus mutations increases the more the infection spreads, he explains.
Nakstad believes, however, that there is weak evidence to say that this has happened at the present time.
– So far, there is no strong evidence that the SARS-CoV-2 virus has changed any of these properties significantly, but we must be prepared for that to happen.
Nor does Aavitsland believe that the claim that the virus has become less dangerous is valid.
– No, there is nothing to suggest that. The simple explanation for the apparently lower risk of death now, ie many cases and few deaths, is a change in the age distribution of the infected. For children and adolescents, this is still a fairly harmless disease, while for the elderly it is a very serious disease. As soon as the epidemic reaches the old ones, the death toll will rise.
– Were fewer young people infected in March / April?
– No then, there was a lot of infection also among young people in Norway this spring, but then there was also a lot of infection among the elderly, and that was what led to a number of deaths, says Aavitsland.
He does not disregard the fact that the low number of hospital admissions and deaths can make some people perceive the threat as less, and thus may not see the point of the infection control measures. He therefore calls for solidarity across generations:
– We have pointed this out all the time: It is especially the young people who must take measures to protect the elderly. The burden of action affects the young, the burden of disease affects the elderly. That is why solidarity is required across the generations, Aavitsland concludes.