Features Australia

Deaths are sad or tragic, but look at the numbers

Health bureaucrats are scaring us unnecessarily

18 September 2021

9:00 AM

18 September 2021

9:00 AM

One of the most bizarre aspects of the interminable daily Covid media conferences is the release of the number of Covid-related deaths. It could be none, it could be four or it could be two. It’s sometimes even as high as ten.

Generally, we are given some tiny bits of additional information such as the sex and the age of the deceased. Occasionally, we are told that it was a 90-year-old man in palliative care who has succumbed to Covid (or at least tested positive and has died, as expected).

A death of a younger unvaccinated person is now regarded as particularly newsworthy, with the strong message being if you haven’t got the jab, this is what’s in store for you. (The fact that the young person may have been ineligible to get the jab or found it impossible to get an appointment is quickly overlooked.)

It would be an interesting exercise to ask ordinary masked folk on the street how many deaths they think occur every day in Australia in normal circumstances. My guess is that most wouldn’t be able to estimate with any accuracy the true figure.

It’s around 465 deaths per day. That’s right: 465 people per day die in Australia, meaning that around 170,000 expire each year. And, wait for it, it’s mainly old people who die. Two-thirds of deaths in Australia occur among those aged 75 years and over.

Women live longer than men (which is only fair given all that rubbish that we women have had to endure during our lives – only kidding.) The median age of death in 2019 was 84 years for females and 78 years for males. Girls, we have more years in the nursing home to look forward to.

We have actually got much better at this death thing – or at least prolonging life. Very few children now die and the overall age-standardised death rate (death rate at a certain age) fell by around 74 per cent between 1901 and 2019. Dementia is the leading cause of death for women and coronary heart disease knocks off the greatest percentage of men.

And here’s another thing to consider: there is a difference between a sad death and a tragic death. Of course, for the people whose loved one dies, it’s often a wrench. But it’s one thing to have a 92-year-old living in a nursing home with full-blown dementia pass away and another thing altogether to have a 42-year-old with plenty of years left die unexpectantly. One is sad, the other is tragic.

So what’s the age profile of those dying with or from Covid? (The United Kingdom counts all Covid deaths as those who expire within a month of testing positive for the virus. If such a person is run over by a bus in that time frame, they have still died a Covid death.)

Unsurprisingly, it is the oldies who are succumbing to Covid in Australia (in very low numbers overall). Indeed, the average age of Covid deaths is higher than that of other deaths, with relatively high numbers of people expiring for Covid-related reasons in their nineties.

This is partly a reflection of the fact that the virus ran through many aged care homes in Victoria last year and the residents were vulnerable to the disease. But something or other was going to take them off within the space of a few months or a few years, at most. We used to call pneumonia the old person’s friend, but I guess that’s unacceptable these days.

Women in their nineties have died in much larger number with or from Covid, in part because there were many more women in that age group in these aged care homes.

Don’t get me wrong: it was a pity that this happened and more could have been done to prevent it occurring, such as better infection control. But, by and large, the deaths that occurred were sad rather than tragic. In most cases, it altered the timing of death by only relatively short periods of time.

Apart from a week or two in August last year, there is no indication that Covid caused an ‘excess death rate’ (higher than normal) in Australia. And deaths from flu and pneumonia declined sharply as would be expected from the enforced social distancing and other measures.

But then there are the deliberately scary stories put out that there could have been nearly 50,000 deaths in Australia if we had experienced the crude case fatality rate (fancy term for death rate) as the United Kingdom. Mind you, if we had had New Zealand’s death rate, there would have been nearly 800 fewer deaths!

I guess the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare thinks it needs to put out this sort of fear-inducing material to justify its existence, although arguably the agency is not really trying. After all, we were told last year by a group of tenured, well-paid academics that we could have had 250,000 additional deaths from Covid without any restrictions.

But if you care to look into what the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has actually done, any Year 10 student would be capable of a similar exercise. The only really accurate bit of the exercise is the use of the adjective ‘crude’. This is because many of the people who might have died of Covid would have died of something else. In other words, it’s a completely pointless exercise.

And here’s another thing to consider. The United Kingdom is now probably in a better position than we are in terms of removing all the state-sanctioned restrictions because so many in the community have actually had the virus and survived. It sure beats the various vaccines in terms of producing antibodies and conferring protection against serious disease.

We see a similar example of hysteria with the reaction of some of the press to the Berejiklian government’s plan to lift the restrictions and to return to normal life. The journalists seek out worrywart epidemiologists who cite various numbers of cases and hospital admissions as well as death rates as reasons why we should all stay locked up for longer.

The inability of these commentators to put any of these figures in any perspective is truly astounding. Similarly, the failure to take into account the costs of the lockdowns, particularly on the economy, the mental health of young people and the educational impact of school closures, means that the hysteria should be dismissed as self-serving, illiberal blather.

Keep going, Gladys.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments