According to one study, men and women have died in similar numbers from the coronavirus, although previous research suggested the disease has more serious effects on men.
Scientists studying deaths in European countries as well as Australia and New Zealand found that there was no significant difference between the number of men and women who died during the first wave of the pandemic.
Among 21 countries, there were 105,800 deaths in men and 100,000 in women. There were differences in different countries, with some having more deaths of one sex than another, but overall the gap was small.
Scientists have repeatedly found the opposite – men seem to be more affected by the coronavirus than women. A study by Imperial College London in April found women were less likely to die from Covid-19, while a report from Public Health England found that male mortality rates are 59 percent higher.
However, the new study, also conducted by researchers from Imperial College, found no numbers to support this. They explained that possible reasons could be that in some countries more women than men are living in nursing homes, which could result in more of them dying, while limited testing during the first wave could mean that, for example, many cases in men have been missed.
The researchers also found that England and Wales were two of the three European countries that suffered the most deaths during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Only Spain has suffered a worse death toll. The number of deaths rose 38 percent above normal levels compared to 37 percent in England and Wales.
A staggering 47,104 people were killed by coronavirus in England and Wales between mid-February and late May, according to the study. This was an increase of 57,300 "excess" deaths from any cause over the same period. However, the official death rate from the Ministry of Health is only 43,000 so far as it only counts those who tested positive by the government system and died within 28 days of the test.
This was higher than any other of the 21 Western countries studied by scholars led by Imperial College London – but only the second largest percentage increase.
There have been 48,700 deaths in Italy, 33,340 of which were due to Covid-19, and 45,800 in Spain, with 27,127 attributed to the virus.
Scientists said high levels of obesity, inequality between the richest and poorest members of society and an underfunded health service could have put the UK on the path to more Covid-19 deaths than comparable countries.
The data show that the relative increase in deaths from any cause was highest in England and Wales, but higher in men in Spain
The number of excessive deaths per person in the population was highest for men in England and Wales and highest for women in Spain. Scientists suggested that nursing homes, where tests were difficult to come by but had frequent deaths and contained more women, may have been responsible for differences in sex – data suggests men are more likely to get seriously ill
The study by Imperial College London showed that the percentage increase in the number of dying from all causes rose the most in Spain, increasing by 38 percent during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and then by 37 percent in England and Wales
Which countries were hardest hit in the first wave?
According to the study, published in Nature Medicine and directed by Imperial College London. The dates cover the period from mid-February to the end of May:
% Change in deaths from all causes
Total number of deaths attributed to Covid-19
England & Wales
Professor Majid Ezzati, one of the authors of the paper from the Imperial School of Public Health, said the similarity of the data between the sexes could be due to lack of Covid-19 diagnoses in nursing homes.
He said: “In some countries the number of women living in nursing homes is greater.
"The tests there may have been very limited and limited, and the only occasions where some infections were missed."
He also said that women, on average, tend to be older compared to men and that other medical causes may have contributed.
Their results contradict previous research showing that men are more likely to die from the disease.
A study by Oxford University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, published in NAture in May, found that men are twice as likely to die from the virus as the opposite sex.
The analysis of 17.4 million patient records in England included 5,707 deaths from Covid-19 between February 1st and April 25th.
NHS research also found that over 80 or a comorbidity such as heart disease or uncontrolled diabetes were major risk factors for the disease. But it also showed that gender and age played a major role – men died 1.99 times more often than women.
Dr. Oxford University's Ben Goldacre, who co-led the study, said the results should be used to help guide policy on easing the lockdown.
He advocated the idea of giving back some freedoms to young healthy Britons but still shielding older people for a while – something that has already been suggested by the government's scientific advisors.
In addition, the researchers said the countries with the highest deaths were those that invested less in their health systems and protection.
For example, Austria, which for all reasons had very few deaths, has almost three times as many hospital beds per capita as Great Britain.
Professor Ezzati added, “Long-term investments in the national health system enable a country to both respond to a pandemic and continue to provide the routine daily care that people need.
"We cannot cut the health system down through austerity and then expect it to serve people when needs are greatest, especially in poor and marginalized communities."
Dr. Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard of Imperial College London, who participated in the study, said: “The Covid 19 pandemic in this first wave has shown how weak and vulnerable our society and economy are to our public's disease.
"So everything that was (a) problem – whether it's obesity, whether it's relative inequalities – each of them is a risk factor for poorer Covid results – and that as individuals, communities or entire nations."
"In many of these aspects, our public health has lagged behind other countries for a number of years, and the Covid 19 pandemic has brought this to the fore."
The UK has some of the highest obesity rates in Europe, with more than two-thirds of adults being overweight or obese to some degree.
According to a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation earlier this year, about one in five people lives in poverty – about 14 million people.
Data from the study (left) shows England and Wales (sixth from top to bottom) had one of the largest spikes in additional deaths in April, with the graphical increase only less than that of Spain (third from bottom to top). The graph on the right shows the death line of England and Wales (seventh from top to bottom) for the spring of this year, which is dramatically higher than the average for that time of year, which is shown in blue. The same trend applies to numerous other countries, including Spain, the Netherlands, France and Belgium
Doctors in Spain, who suffered the largest proportional increase in deaths during the first wave of Covid-19, are pictured treating a coronavirus patient at Severo Ochoa hospital in Leganes, on the outskirts of Madrid (October 9).
Both obesity and low income compared to the rest of the country are risk factors that dramatically increase the likelihood of death of a person contracting the coronavirus and may have contributed to the high death toll in the UK, the researchers said.
By counting deaths to the last available date – including the four months that have passed since the study ended – the UK has the fifth highest official death rate in the world. 43,018 people died within 28 days of diagnosis. It is known that the actual number is higher.
According to data from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, the United States has the world's highest death toll at 215,910, followed by Brazil (150,998), India (110,586) and Mexico (84,420).
The Imperial College study, which looked only at the earliest phase of the pandemic between February and late May, found that England, Wales and Spain had almost 100 more deaths than normal for every 100,000 people in their populations.
In Scotland, the excessive death rate during the first wave was 84 per 100,000 people, an increase of 28 percent over the average expected deaths.
The authors estimate that as a result of the pandemic, an additional 206,000 deaths occurred in the 21 countries included in the analysis.
The countries were Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, England and Wales, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Scotland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
The research paper, entitled "The Extent, Demographics, and Dynamics of the Impact of the First Wave of the COVID-19 Pandemic on All Mortality in 21 Developed Countries," was published in the journal Nature Medicine.
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