Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, excess deaths in Switzerland, Sweden, and Spain were higher in 2020 than any other year since 1918, when the Spanish Flu was spreading across the world.
The findings suggest that the number of deaths worldwide might have been higher without strong public health interventions worldwide.
Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the study gives important insights into the first 12 months of the global pandemic, also providing important lessons on what should be done in the case of another pandemic.
“Our findings suggest that the pandemic led to the second-largest mortality disaster driven by a viral infection in more than 100 years in the 3 countries we studied, second only to the 1918 influenza pandemic,” the authors wrote in the paper.
These countries were chosen because they have kept monthly statistics on deaths from all causes for well over a century. They also did not participate in military combat in either World War, so the record remains consistent as well as not having the casualties from the conflicts added to the statistics.
The team also compared statistics of particularly virulent flu seasons as well as the 1918 pandemic. The latter affected younger people most, so it had a different mortality profile by age with respect to COVID-19. While in those particular years mortality was increased, it was only during 1918 and 2020 that it was higher than expected from all possible causes.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, these 3 countries recorded monthly peaks of excess all-cause mortality that were greater than most monthly excess mortality since the 1918 influenza pandemic, including many peaks due to seasonal influenza and heat waves during that period. This emphasizes the historical dimension of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the authors explained in the paper.
Humanity is still very much in this pandemic. Official data states that over 5.6 million people have died globally due to COVID-19 since the end of 2019. According to the World Health Organization, the number of global COVID-19 deaths in 2020 were underestimated by 1.2 million. The actual number is believed to be at least 3 million.
It is currently hard to tell the full effect this pandemic will have on humanity, both in terms of the people dying of the disease and those living with Long COVID. While treatments and research continue to improve our understanding, there is still much we don't know. COVID-19 remains the second deadliest pandemic globally in 50 years after AIDS.