Covid-19: What we’ve just learned about virus deaths

26 Jul, 2022 09:00 AM4 minutes to read

Just-revised data reveals more than 900 people in New Zealand have died directly from Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic. Photo / Sylvie Whinray

Just-revised data reveals more than 900 people in New Zealand have died directly from Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic. Photo / Sylvie WhinrayJamie MortonBy 

Jamie Morton

Science ReporterVIEW PROFILE

Just-revised data reveals more than 900 people in New Zealand have died directly from Covid-19 – and that the virus has been a contributing factor in nearly 500 other deaths.

The figures, published by the Ministry of Health today, show more than two thirds of people whose deaths had previously been linked to Covid-19 had actually died as a direct or partial result of it.

Previously, the ministry was reporting daily Covid-19 mortalities as those who’d died within 28 days of being reported as having a positive test result – meaning the data might capture someone who’d died in a car crash or from a heart attack weeks after an infection.

Under its new approach, reported deaths are those who’d died because of Covid-19, or where it was recorded as a contributing factor.

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The updated figures showed 1396 deaths were Covid-attributed – with 903 listed as the virus being the underlying cause, and 493 of it being “contributory” to the death.

All but 35 of those deaths occurred within 28 days of the person testing positive, the data showed.

Of the remainder of the 2039 virus-related deaths reported since the start of the pandemic, 410 weren’t linked to Covid-19, and there wasn’t enough information to establish the virus’ part in 233 deaths.

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Over the past seven days, there’d been a daily average of 17 deaths confirmed as being attributable to Covid-19 – and 38 new virus-linked deaths were reported today.

Professor Michael Plank, of Covid-19 Modelling Aotearoa, said higher current death rates reflected the fact that more older people were being infected in this Omicron wave than our first one.

“We could continue to see those relatively high numbers for some time,” he said.

“Hopefully, it will, it will drop off as the wave recedes. But as we know, deaths tend to lag behind cases – by several weeks, in some cases.”

Last week, the ministry said the new reporting was a “more meaningful” measure in understanding the burden of severe disease from Covid-19.

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“Over time that will also allow us to provide more and better demographic information about the people who have died from Covid-19 over the course of the pandemic such as by age, ethnicity, and by vaccination status,” the Public Health Agency’s deputy director-general Dr Andrew Old said.

Director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield added the ministry now had systems in place to code deaths within a few days, rather than one or two or three months.

Source / Ministry of Health
Source / Ministry of Health

As at July 19, 1,252 deaths had been classified as having been wholly or partially caused by the virus – which Old said was lower than other ways deaths had been counted to date.

But it still showed that, in between two-thirds and three-quarters of cases where people had died with an infection, the virus had in some way contributed to their deaths.

Old added that number might rise over time as more Covid-19 deaths were assessed and classified

“So, it’s important to note that this updated approach is consistent with the approaches taken in the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States … and therefore more accurately reflects the contribution of Covid-19 to death numbers and overall rates.”

This updated approach would also now become the ministry reported figures to the World Health Organisation going forward.

He also pointed out New Zealand had a lower cumulative Covid-19 mortality rate – currently 378 per million population – than many other countries, due to its successes early on in the pandemic.

As at today, the UK’s cumulative death rate was 2,718 deaths per million population, while in the US, that rate was 3,047 deaths per million population.

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