Comparing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic between countries or across time is difficult because the reported numbers of cases and deaths can be strongly affected by testing capacity and reporting policy. Excess mortality, defined as the increase in all-cause mortality relative to the expected mortality, is widely considered as a more objective indicator of the COVID-19 death toll. However, there has been no global, frequently-updated repository of the all-cause mortality data across countries. To fill this gap, we have collected weekly, monthly, or quarterly all-cause mortality data from 94 countries and territories, openly available as the regularly-updated World Mortality Dataset. We used this dataset to compute the excess mortality in each country during the COVID-19 pandemic. We found that in several worst-affected countries (Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Mexico) the excess mortality was above 50% of the expected annual mortality. At the same time, in several other countries (Australia, New Zealand) mortality during the pandemic was below the usual level, presumably due to social distancing measures decreasing the non-COVID infectious mortality. Furthermore, we found that while many countries have been reporting the COVID-19 deaths very accurately, some countries have been substantially underreporting their COVID-19 deaths (e.g. Nicaragua, Russia, Uzbekistan), sometimes by two orders of magnitude (Tajikistan). Our results highlight the importance of open and rapid all-cause mortality reporting for pandemic monitoring.
Full data is publicly available at: https://github.com/akarlinsky/world_mortality
World Mortality DatasetGitHub.
DK was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (BE5601/4-1 and the Cluster of Excellence ``Machine Learning --- New Perspectives for Science', EXC 2064, project number 390727645), the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (FKZ 01GQ1601 and 01IS18039A) and the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number U19MH114830. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.
- Marc Lipsitch, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, United States
© 2021, Karlinsky & Kobak
This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.
eLife has published the following articles on SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19.
Evaluating the characteristics of emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern is essential to inform pandemic risk assessment. A variant may grow faster if it produces a larger number of secondary infections ('R advantage') or if the timing of secondary infections (generation time) is better. So far, assessments have largely focused on deriving the R advantage assuming the generation time was unchanged. Yet, knowledge of both is needed to anticipate impact. Here we develop an analytical framework to investigate the contribution of both the R advantage and generation time to the growth advantage of a variant. It is known that selection on a variant with larger R increases with levels of transmission in the community. We additionally show that variants conferring earlier transmission are more strongly favoured when the historical strains have fast epidemic growth, while variants conferring later transmission are more strongly favoured when historical strains have slow or negative growth. We develop these conceptual insights into a new statistical framework to infer both the R advantage and generation time of a variant. On simulated data, our framework correctly estimates both parameters when it covers time periods characterized by different epidemiological contexts. Applied to data for the Alpha and Delta variants in England and in Europe, we find that Alpha confers a +54% [95% CI, 45-63%] R advantage compared to previous strains, and Delta +140% [98-182%] compared to Alpha, and mean generation times are similar to historical strains for both variants. This work helps interpret variant frequency dynamics and will strengthen risk assessment for future variants of concern.