COVID-19 the Likeliest Explanation for Excess Mortality in 2022

From the night shift at the COVID-19 ward.

Chief Epidemiologist Guðrún Aspelund believes that COVID-19 is the only possible explanation for excess mortality in Iceland last year, RÚV reports. Guðrún emphasised that vaccinations had in all likelihood reduced mortality and that the number of deaths was to be explained by a large number of infections.

COVID-19 deaths on the rise again

After a significant decline last autumn, the number of deaths due to COVID-19 has begun to rise once again; thirteen individuals died from COVID-19 in Iceland in January 2023, compared to an average monthly mortality rate of three between the months of August and October last year.

Yesterday’s RÚV reported that there had been an inordinate number of excess deaths last year, which suggests that twice as many people – or about 400 – had died from COVID-19 last year than previously thought.

Chief Epidemiologist Guðrún Aspelund told RÚV that COVID-19 was really the only explanation: “There were excess deaths in 2022 at around the same time as the big omicron wave hit between February and March. And then there was another smaller wave in July, which was when the excess mortality rate rose again,” Guðrún remarked. “And there is no other explanation for these deaths other than COVID-19.”

As noted by RÚV, excess mortality also increased in other countries after waves of COVID-19 passed. Guðrún noted that the pandemic could also have had an indirect effect on mortality: “It could mean reduced access to the healthcare system in some countries, or some other societal trends,” Guðrún observed.

More deaths in January 2023 than in all of 2021

In 2020, there were 31 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, while in 2021, the number decreased to 8. Last year year, however, there were 211 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, but as previously mentioned, the deaths last year were probably closer to 400. The latest available data from the health authorities are from January, 2023, which indicate that thirteen individuals died from COVID-19 during the first month of the year. This number exceeds the total number of deaths for all of 2021.

As noted by RÚV, there were also excess deaths in January: 70 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, while deaths in January are, on average, usually around 60 per 100,000 inhabitants. Guðrún noted that around the turn of the year, there was a great number of covid infections. “But then there were also other infections, like influenza and RS.”

More infections = more deaths

82% of the population, aged five and over, are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and more than 55% of the nation has been diagnosed with the disease. Given this, a reporter from RÚV asked why the number of COVID-19 deaths had increased last year.

Guðrún replied that a rise in the number of deaths could not be attributed to vaccinations. “On the contrary, I think the situation would have been much worse if there had been no vaccinations … the omicron wave was, of course, much bigger than others that had preceded it, and, as a result, more people got sick,” Guðrún remarked.

Possible Restrictions for Travelers from China

keflavik airport COVID-19 testing

Epidemiologist Guðrún Aspelund says that border screenings are being considered for travelers from China, given the recent rise in infections there.

In a recent statement, Guðrún indicated that healthcare systems throughout Europe are under stress, and that possible measures at the Icelandic border may be taken to relieve pressure other nations as well.

Regulations on travel are set to be lifted soon in China, meaning that Chinese residents will no longer have to quarantine upon arrival in China from foreign travel. This relaxation has healthcare experts throughout Europe concerned that a wave of Chinese travelers may take advantage of the relaxed regulations. The recent easing of restrictions has contributed to the uptick in infections, and some Western nations have also expressed concerns that authorities there have systematically under-reported figures.

Guðrún further stated: “We have less information coming from there regarding numbers for infections, hospitalizations, and cases. There is concern that the situation in China is quite bad and that it could affect Europe. There are also concerns of new varieties coming from China, though it is entirely possible that they may have other origins as well.”

Other nations, including the US, India, and the UK have also introduced mandatory testing for Chinese travelers. Chinese authorities have criticized these travel restrictions as being politically motivated.

A final decision on the possible restrictions is expected by the weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

Record Number of Coronavirus Deaths Since Start of 2022

vaccination Laugardalshöll

Deaths from COVID-19 have hit a record high, Vísir reports, with 188 people having died from the coronavirus since the beginning of 2022. According to Chief Epidemiologist Guðrún Aspelund, the effect of COVID-19 far outweighs the effects of other infectious diseases such as influenza.

Mainly individuals 70 years and older

Deaths from COVID-19 have surged since the start of 2022, Vísir reports. Thirty-one people died from the coronavirus in 2020 compared to eight in 2021. During the first ten months of 2022, however, that number has risen to 188.

According to Chief Epidemiologist Guðrún Aspelund, this upswing in cases owes primarily to the highly infectious Omicron variant and the fact that no social restrictions are in place. Deaths have mainly occurred among individuals seventy years and older.

“Which is why we’re encouraging older people, everyone sixty years and older, and those who are at risk, to get their booster shots. That’s the best form of protection,” Guðrún remarked, adding that protection from vaccines diminishes over a period of a few months.

“We’ve also got new vaccines now that offer protection against the original variant of coronavirus and Omicron, which offers better protection. We need to repeat these vaccinations to enter into winter with good protection.”

Read More: Long-form Interview with former chief epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

Guðrún observed that Iceland’s neighbouring countries have also been seeing a rise in cases in 2022. “Confirmed deaths from COVID-19 are believed to be around six and a half million. But there are many who believe that those figures are at least twice as high – thousands of people are still dying from coronavirus every week.”

According to Guðrún, deaths from coronavirus are significantly higher than deaths from influenza. Coronavirus deaths in Iceland are, however, lower when compared to other countries, with Iceland having the lowest death toll among the Nordic countries.

When asked to speculate why, Guðrún pointed to Iceland’s speedy vaccination campaign, its social restrictions, and the fact that the healthcare system had responded well. “I think we can chalk up this achievement to these factors along with the participation of the citizenry.”