healthHealth and Medicine

COVID-19 Has Claimed At Least 28 Million Years Of Life So Far


Rachael Funnell

Digital Content Producer

clockNov 4 2021, 17:11 UTC
covid-19 years of life lost

The number for the entire globe is much higher. Image credit: Devis M /

A harrowing new survey, the largest of its kind, has calculated the years of life lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic so far. Looking at data across 37 countries, the research estimates that we have lost at least 28 million years of life to the deadly disease in the form of premature deaths among people who might otherwise have gone on to live years or decades.

Published in the BMJ, the study was carried out by researchers from the University of Oxford, UK. Led by Dr Nazrul Islam, of the Nuffield Department of Population Health, the findings reportedly shocked even those crunching the numbers, some of which had lost loved ones of their own to the pandemic.


“We had to stop at one point to go over everything,” said Islam to Guardian. “Nothing has shocked me so much in my life as the pandemic.”

To calculate the years of life lost, the researchers had to measure the number of deaths in 2020 from each country due to any cause, and the age at which they occurred. While not all deaths were a direct result of COVID-19, there have been countless ways in which the disease has indirectly led to premature deaths among the global population, from delays in surgeries to exacerbating existing conditions.

The age at death for those identified was then compared against the average life expectancy for each country to ascertain how long that person might have otherwise survived, and in turn how many years they lost out on. Data from the pandemic tells us that average life expectancy fell in several of the countries studied, but for the purposes of the research, averages from 2005 to 2019 were used.

The results showed that an excess of 28 million years of life were lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic – five times the number of years lost in the seasonal influenza epidemic in 2015. The real number, however, is likely far, far higher, as for the purposes of this study the researchers focused on just 37 countries that were classed as upper-middle and high-income countries with complete mortality data.


Interestingly, years of life lost were higher than expected in almost all of the countries studied except for Taiwan and New Zealand, who actually saw a reduction; and Iceland, Denmark, Norway, and South Korea where figures stayed the same. This means the 28 million excess years of life lost came from 31 of the 37 surveyed countries.

With at least 5 million people estimated to have died as a direct result of COVID-19 so far, and cases still being reported across the globe, it’s likely there are many more years to be lost yet.

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