Health systems, govt responses linked to virus tolls

BERLIN (AP) — Scientists say a comparison of 21 developed countries during the start of the coronavirus pandemic shows that those with early lockdowns and well-prepared national health systems avoided large numbers of additional deaths due to the outbreak.

In a study published Wednesday by the journal Nature Medicine, researchers used the number of weekly deaths in 19 European countries, New Zealand and Australia over the past decade to estimate how many people would have died from mid-February to May 2020 had the pandemic not happened.

The authors, led by Majid Ezzati of Imperial College London, then compared the predicted number of deaths to the actual reported figure during that period to determine how many likely occurred due to the pandemic. Such models of ‘excess mortality’ are commonly used by public health officials to better understand disease outbreaks and the effectiveness of counter-measures.

The study found there were about 206,000 excess deaths across the 21 countries during the period, a figure that conforms to independent estimates. In Spain, the number of deaths was 38% higher than would have been expected without the pandemic, while in England and Wales it was 37% higher.

Italy, Scotland and Belgium also had significant excess deaths, while in some countries there was no marked change or even — as in the case of Bulgaria — a decrease.


While the authors note that there are differences in the compositions of populations, such as age and the prevalence of pre-existing conditions that contribute to mortality rates, government efforts to suppress transmission of the virus and the ability of national health systems to cope with the pandemic also played a role.

Amitava Banerjee, a professor of clinical data science at University College London who wasn’t involved in the study, said it was well designed and had used standardized methods.

He noted that the comparison between death rates in the United Kingdom and New Zealand, where the age of the population and the rates of pre-existing conditions such as obesity are similar, supports the argument that other factors contributed to the differing mortality figures.

“Even if vaccines and better treatments for severe (COVID-19) infection are developed, the way to minimise excess deaths is to reduce the infection rate through population level measures,” said Banerjee.

These include lockdowns, protecting high risk groups,and establishing effective “test, trace and isolate” systems, he said.

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Vaccine reluctance linked to belief in virus hoaxes: study

Up to a third of people in certain countries may believe coronavirus misinformation and in turn be less open to immunisation, scientists said Wednesday, warning that development of a vaccine “might not be enough”. 

Researchers in Britain and the Netherlands conducted surveys in the UK, United States, Ireland, Mexico and Spain and found that while most people rejected Covid-19 conspiracy theories, some of these false stories had taken root in “substantial sections” of the population. 

The World Health Organization has warned that the pandemic has been accompanied by a damaging “infodemic” that has made it hard for people to cut through the misinformation.  

The study found the conspiracy most believed by participants was the claim that the virus was deliberately engineered in a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the epidemic first emerged. 

Between 22-23 percent of respondents in the UK and US rated this assertion as “reliable”, rising to 33 percent and 37 percent Mexico and Spain respectively.

The hoax that Covid-19 symptoms are worsened by 5G phone networks was deemed reliable by 16 percent of respondents in Mexico and in Spain, 12 percent in Ireland, and 8 percent in both the UK and US.

The study, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, found “a clear link” between believing coronavirus conspiracies and hesitancy around any future vaccine, said co-author Sander van der Linden, director of the Cambridge University Social Decision-Making Lab. 

“As well as flagging false claims, governments and technology companies should explore ways to increase digital media literacy in the population,” he said. 

“Otherwise, developing a working vaccine might not be enough.”

– Infodemic –

Researchers conducted two surveys in the UK in April and May with 1,050 and 1,150 participants respectively, while there were also 700 participants each in the US, Mexico, Spain and Ireland. 

They were also asked to rate the reliability of coronavirus claims on a scale of one to seven.

On average, the study found that an increase by one-seventh in someone’s perception that misinformation was reliable was associated with a drop of 23 percent in the likelihood they would agree to get vaccinated.  

By contrast, a one-seventh increase in trust in scientists was associated with a 73 percent increase in the likelihood of getting vaccinated. 

Jon Roozenbeek, the lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at Cambridge’s Department of Psychology, said people were dealing with “a deluge of statistics” in the pandemic. 

“The fostering of numerical skills for sifting through online information could well be vital for curbing the ‘infodemic’ and promoting good public health behaviour,” he said.  

Researchers found that high levels of trust in scientists and numeracy levels were “significantly and consistently” associated with imperviousness to misinformation across all countries studied.  

Trusting politicians’ ability to tackle the crisis predicted a higher likelihood of believing conspiracies in Mexico, Spain and the US, but not in the UK and Ireland, the study found. 

A study from Cornell University earlier in October found that US President Donald Trump was

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