The toll of deaths and other consequences

The harms arising from the pandemic can be grouped under four headings:
  • direct health effects
  • indirect health effects
  • wider effects on society
  • economic impacts

Direct health effects

The large number of deaths

England had the highest excess all-cause mortality rate among 23 European countries in the first five months of 2020 compared with 2015-19. There were around 58,000 excess deaths (see Figure) [1]. About half the excess deaths occurred in care homes.

The way in which people died has often been very distressing

In many countries, including the UK, the number of excess deaths is roughly the same as the number of deaths reported [2]

Other sources: [3], [4], [5], [6]

Many health and care workers have died

There can be residual effects in those who survive ("long covid")

Indirect health effects

  • the delays of urgent medical investigations
  • treatment delays
  • interruption of health promotion activities
  • effects on mental health

Wider effects on society

  • the disruption of funerals, weddings etc
  • suspension of sporting events etc

Economic disruption

A crucial point is that economic effects are strongly correlated with health impacts - so policy decisions are not a matter of choosing between protecting health and protecting the economy; those countries with the fewest deaths also tend to have the least economic disruption [7].
As examples, South Korea has tackled its virus outbreaks vigorously and has had few deaths and little economic disruption, and business activity in China is largely back to normal [8]:


The figure is copied from the BMJ article [1].


[1]UKs record on pandemic deaths (Sep 2020) BMJ 2020;370:m3348
[2]Tracking covid-19 excess deaths across countries (Jul 2020, updated Oct 2020) The Economist
[3]Financial Times
[4]New York Times
[5]Our World in Data
[6](all-cause mortality in 21 industrialized countries) (Oct 2020)
[7]Greg Jericho The Guardian (12 Sep 2020) Regardless of Covid restrictions, if people are dying in large numbers your economy is stuffed

First published: 23 July 2020
Last updated: 27 Oct 2020