Are lockdown effects ‘killing more people than Covid’?

Excess deaths data has blown open debate about pandemic restrictions

Life in lockdown
The rate of excess deaths is 14.4% higher than the five-year average
(Image credit: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images)

The effectiveness of the UK’s Covid lockdowns is being debated once again following the publication of new statistics which suggest that the pandemic response may now be killing more people than the virus itself.

Excess deaths data released this week by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that around 1,000 more people than usual are dying each week from conditions other than the virus.

The figures revealed that the rate of excess deaths is 14.4% higher than the five-year average, and that 1,350 more people died than usual in the week ending 5 August.

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Covid-related deaths accounted for 469 of the total, but the remaining 881 have “not been explained”, said the Daily Mail.

‘Silent health crisis’

The Telegraph said the figures “suggest the country is facing a new silent health crisis linked to the pandemic response rather than to the virus itself”. The paper reported that the Department of Health has ordered an investigation amid concern that the deaths are linked to delays in treatment for conditions such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

The British Heart Foundation told the paper that it was “deeply concerned” by the numbers, while Dr Charles Levinson, chief executive of Doctorcall, a private GP service, said: “Hundreds and hundreds of people dying every week – what is going on?”

He added that he thought “delays in seeking and receiving healthcare” were no doubt the driving force behind the startling figures.

The government was warned as far back as July 2020 that tens of thousands more people could die from the effects of the Covid lockdowns and efforts to protect the NHS than from the virus itself.

Experts told ministers that healthcare delays and the economic fallout of the coronavirus could result in up to 200,000 excess deaths.

‘Divisive and unhelpful’

Lockdown opponents have seized upon the findings, claiming they vindicate their anti-restriction stance. “Saying this over two years ago – but I suppose late is better than never,” said writer and former NHS consultant Gary Sidley on Twitter.

But others pointed the finger away from lockdown as a contributing factor to excess deaths. The writer Frances Coppola said it was not “lockdown effects” that were to blame but “underfunding-of-public-services effects”.

Stuart McDonald, founder and co-chair of the Covid-19 Actuaries Response Group, tweeted that blaming lockdown was “divisive and unhelpful”.

And Twitter statistician Adam Jacobs said that linking the excess deaths to lockdown restrictions was “total b***ocks” because “there were never any lockdown restrictions forbidding people from going to hospital or their GP”.

The problem was that “health services were overwhelmed treating patients with Covid” and therefore, he argued, it was not lockdowns but “Covid itself” that has caused the problem.

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