Actual vs “normal” weekly deaths from all causes, 2020 and 2021-to-date, from Statistics Canada data via Alberta Business Council
Since I first reported on the World Mortality Database (WMD), and its argument that IHME’s excess deaths data, and hence their estimates of actual deaths from CoVid-19, are completely untenable, I’ve been digging more into the WMD data, specifically the Canadian data.
The WMD data suggest that, far from the 40% CoVid-19 deaths undercount that many earlier studies had suggested for Canada (and the US), and the 50% undercount that IHME is now, preposterously, using (for Canada, but no longer for the US), the reported Canadian CoVid-19 death count appears to have been, and continues to be, extremely accurate. Some CoVid-19 deaths have been missed, of course, but it appears that for a comparable number of deaths attributed to CoVid-19 because the deceased showed evidence of having been infected, the actual cause of death was something else — most likely a pre-existing condition.
This phenomenon doesn’t only apply to Canada, but to quite a few other countries with advanced health care reporting systems, such as Belgium, France, Sweden, Switzerland and Austria. What distinguishes these countries is that the ratio of excess deaths during the pandemic to reported CoVid-19 deaths to date, is less than 1.0.
This doesn’t mean that global CoVid-19 deaths are anywhere near as low as the 5.3M reported to date — the correct number is probably triple that. That’s because countries with poor reporting systems or a political agenda to suppress reported death counts have drastically undercounted their death totals — by from 10% in the US to over 100% in countries like Russia, Brasil and India.
But it does mean that countries like Canada, Belgium, France, Sweden etc have actually done a pretty amazing job at identifying all the dead, and, consequently, adjusting for factors like demographics and average immune system health, have done a pretty amazing job at limiting the number of citizens infected in those countries, and hence their future toll of Long Covid sufferers.
If you look at the most recent statistics for Canada, for example, what is remarkable is that for Jan-May 2021 (the data after that date is not yet finalized) there have been zero net excess deaths. Despite increases in some months in the number of reported cases (partly due, most likely, to better reporting and more access to testing), the total number of Canadian deaths in 2021 to date would seem to be slightly lower than in an average year.
What does this mean? It means that for every CoVid-19 death in Canada in 2021, more than one death has been prevented, or at least forestalled, that would have occurred over a typical similar recent period. Many things could account for this:
- The huge number of people wearing masks (in my neighbourhoods it’s been 80+% of the people I see in public, all year) has reduced the incidence of flu and other respiratory diseases transmitted by air.
- People are just being more conscious of their health — washing their hands more often, for example, and getting tested when symptoms arose that they might “normally” have shrugged off, and hence identifying and treating other conditions.
- While “mobility” has returned to near “normal” levels, de facto social distancing protocols remain in place for most people, especially the most vulnerable, and will until the pandemic is declared “over”.
What’s remarkable is that this “net zero” excess deaths has been achieved despite some of the mortality factors that CoVid-19 would tend to exacerbate:
- People deferring or avoiding surgery and other medical interventions out of fear of getting CoVid-19 in hospitals, or because medical facilities became less available due to CoVid-19 hospitalizations.
- Increased deaths from suicide, street drug poisonings, domestic homicide and other consequences of people’s inability to deal with the challenges and isolation of living in a pandemic.
- Reported increases in some causes of death that are related to stress, and related to increased levels of obesity during the pandemic.
And that’s not even including the surges in deaths from some non-CoVid-19 related causes in 2021 such as “heat domes” (the leading cause of death among all causes in BC one week this past summer), wildfires, flooding etc.
What this means is that, for Canada at least, while we haven’t got the pandemic “under control”, total Canadian death tolls from all causes (including the pandemic) are back to pre-CoVid-19 levels. This despite the fact that the WMD data suggests that the percentage of Canadians infected with CoVid-19 so far is a lot lower than we feared earlier — perhaps as few as 10% of Canadians, a third the proportion of our neighbours to the south.
Close to 90% of Canadians are now fully vaccinated (the US percentage is closer to 60%). Canada is now fast-tracking booster shots, which show promising results against omicron. Canada’s death toll to date has been about 30,000 (0.08% of the population, compared to 0.27% of Americans), and probably another 2,000 Canadians will die over the four coming winter months. But if recent trends hold true, at least 2,000 fewer Canadians will die of other causes this winter than in a normal winter.
This doesn’t mean we should let up on what we’re doing. In fact it would be great if we could get free CoVid-19 tests into every Canadian’s hands to get better tabs on the pandemic’s progress here (we don’t have to deal with a Jen Psaki or a for-profit health care system in this country, so this should be possible).
What this data shows is that — at last — we in Canada are doing very well dealing with the pandemic, and we should be grateful to our public health system for this remarkable accomplishment.
The game may be far from over, but, at least in this country, it looks like we’ve tied up the score.