Finance Finance News Michael Pascoe: COVID quietly jumps to become our second-biggest killer
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Michael Pascoe: COVID quietly jumps to become our second-biggest killer

COVID is on course to become our second-biggest killer, writes Michael Pascoe. Photo: TND
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A third of the way into our year of letting it rip, COVID has jumped to become our second-biggest killer.

And, no, it’s not killing people “just like the flu used to”. COVID is killing at more than three times the rate of flu and pneumonia combined.

And it’s killing people at a younger age than those who typically die from flu or pneumonia.

No, the plague hasn’t faded away.

It’s continued to spread and have its way with people, from the asymptomatic to the fatal.

We’ve just collectively decided it is what it is and downgraded our attempts to further limit the fatalities, accepting that thousands of Australians will die prematurely from it.

So far this year, just over 5000 people have died from COVID. Multiply by three to annualise that number and allow for February being a short month, and COVID deaths this year will just pip the number of deaths by our second-biggest killer in 2019, dementia.

That’s not allowing for the likelihood that COVID deaths will come at a faster rate as we go into winter, sharing unventilated spaces against the cold, the traditional season for any coronavirus.

Thus COVID will take clear second place behind ischaemic heart diseases as our main cause of death, certainly way more than the 14,575 people who died from dementia in 2020 – a year whose mortality statistics were distorted by COVID prevention measures.

In 2019, the last “normal” year for flu and pneumonia deaths, 4124 of us died that way, a fraction of the 15,000+ we can expect from COVID this year. (COVID prevention measures resulted in only 2287 deaths from flu and pneumonia in 2020.)

And the median age of those flu and pneumonia deaths in 2019 was 89. The median age of COVID deaths is running at 83.

Sure, most of the people dying from COVID are “old” – half of them 83 or older, but that still leaves a lot of people dying earlier than they might otherwise statistically expect.

Source: Health Department

Statisticians measure premature death in YPLL – years of potential life lost. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, YPLL is “a measure of premature mortality which weights age at death to gain an estimate of how many years a person would have lived had they not died prematurely”.

In round numbers, Australia is looking at maybe 60,000 YPLL from COVID this year. That compares with 10,595 YPLL from flu and pneumonia in 2019.

No, the plague hasn’t faded away.

We’re just at a similar stage with it as we were with road fatalities back in the 1960s. The numbers were dreadful, but, hey, it was what it was – doing anything about it seemed too hard. A percentage of road fatalities was merely part of the price for the wonder of the automobile becoming widely available.

It took decades to take road deaths seriously, to decide they were largely preventable, first with seat belts and subsequently with other safety improvements in road and car design and cracking down on drink-driving.

With COVID and whatever the next viral plague might be, it seems we’re years away from taking ventilation and masks seriously. We’re over all the stuff.

And the plague hasn’t even faded away.