Fewer Deaths Than Expected Despite Widespread Infections

Kamilla Jósefsdóttir

More people have died from COVID-19 during the first three months of 2022 than during the entirety of 2020 and 2021, Fréttablaðið reports. Ninety-one deaths have been reported from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic in Iceland, 54 of which occurred during the new year. The newest wave of the pandemic has, however, seen fewer deaths than expected. 

Thirty-seven deaths in 2020 and 2021

Twenty-nine individuals died from COVID-19 in 2020, according to a report from the Directorate of Health. By the end of 2021, eight more individuals had passed away from the disease, or a total of 37. Since the start of the new year, 54 COVID-related deaths have been reported.

“We count deaths that doctors report as being connected to COVID-19,” Kamilla Sigríður Jósefsdóttir, Deputy Chief Epidemiologist, noted in an interview with Fréttablaðið yesterday. “We’re unable to make a further distinction. If the death is believed to have originated from an entirely different cause, then it should not be reported.”

Fewer deaths than expected

The most recent wave of the pandemic – primarily attributed to the spread of the Omicron variant – has proven especially infectious (two weeks ago, it was estimated that 70% of Icelanders had already been infected); given the number of cases, however, there have been fewer deaths than expected as compared to previous waves of the pandemic.

With a spike in cases, many vulnerable individuals – the elderly and those with underlying conditions, for example – have become infected with the disease. In an interview with Viljinn on Monday, Kamilla maintained that most of those who died from COVID-19 recently – but not everyone – suffered from underlying conditions, which influences the seriousness of the illness.

“One of the reasons why social restrictions were lifted was that Omicron was causing less serious illness compared to earlier variants, which meant that there was less need for restrictions than before,” Kamilla stated. Despite the relative benignity of the Omicron variant, there is still ample reason to practice personal disease-prevention measures:

“Avoiding contact with vulnerable individuals if you’re symptomatic and/or using a mask when close contact is unavoidable and when conditions allow. Washing your hands – etc.,” Kamilla observed. 

Not comparable to flu season

When asked if the current wave of COVID-19 was comparable to the flu season, Kamilla replied that the death rate for COVID-19 was much higher. If such an analogy were to be made, then it should be compared with influenza pandemics, which are much more serious.

According to Kamilla, the mortality rate from COVID-19 during this most recent Omicron wave is nine times greater per 100,000 residents than the mortality rate during the annual flu season in the United States. It’s also 2.5 times higher than the mortality rate in the US during the 2009 swine flu pandemic.