Deaths 17 percent above historical average amid last year’s Omicron surge

The spike in deaths has temporarily reduced Australia’s life expectancy. For 2021-22, life expectancy is projected to have fallen by just under five months, and for 2022-23 it is projected to fall by around 2½ months for males and 3½ months for females.

After that, life expectancy is likely to increase gradually. In 10 years, the average life expectancy is expected to reach 87 years for women and 83.5 years for men.

Australia acted quickly to deal with the pandemic, closing the international border in early 2020 while ongoing lockdowns were enforced across much of the country. Vaccine uptake has been high – 96 percent of people aged 16 and over have had at least two doses of a vaccine.

Australia’s COVID-19 deaths peaked at 3.3 per million in January last year and 3.7 per million in July. In comparison, COVID-19 deaths peaked in January 2021 at 20.6 per million in the United Kingdom and 10 per million in the United States.

Life expectancy in these countries also fell further in 2020 – by 1½ years for men and one year for women in the UK and by two years for men and 1.4 years for women in the US.

Professor Jodie McVernon, director of Doherty epidemiology, said people need to be aware of the fact that the impact of COVID-19 on Australia has been relatively small compared to other nations.

“Every death is a loss, but in light of the broader global burden in countries of comparable income, Australia has managed to reduce that toll,” she said.

McVernon noted that some people with chronic conditions have been delaying medical care for the past three years as the pandemic overwhelmed hospitals and people were wary of seeking help.

“For a while, these types of undertreated chronic conditions and delayed presentations are going to continue to play out,” she said.

The member of the Federal Chamber of Labor, Dr. Mike Freelander, has previously voiced his concerns about the above-average deaths by 2022. As chair of the Senate Inquiry into Long-COVID, he said the inquiry will look at how COVID-19 might increase inflammatory responses and what could be done to change those risks.

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Despite fears early in the pandemic that extended lockdowns and social distancing restrictions could lead to an increase in suicide rates, the report said the suicide rate has fallen compared to pre-pandemic levels so far.

The report expects the elevated death rate among people over 60 to continue in the first half of this year, but notes that the long-term impact of COVID-19 on the country’s death rate was “highly uncertain”.

“The extent to which ‘long-COVID’, persistent mutations of the virus and public health responses will affect future mortality is unknown, creating a significant uncertainty for future projections,” the report said.

McVernon said that with good national vaccine coverage and milder variants, Australians could hope for less uncertainty going forward “where we’re more likely to have rumbling waves and smaller epidemics than these big catastrophic things that are happening”.

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https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/deaths-17pc-above-historical-average-amid-last-year-s-omicron-wave-20230105-p5caml.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_politics_federal Deaths 17 percent above historical average amid last year’s Omicron surge

Callan Tansill

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