Alarming blow to lifespans

Top News | REUTERS, BLOOMBERG 28 Sep 2021

The pandemic reduced life expectancy in 2020 by the largest amount since World War II, a study by Oxford University shows.

Life expectancy fell by more than six months compared with 2019 in 22 of 29 countries in the study, which spanned Europe, the United States and Chile. There were reductions in life expectancy in 27 of the 29 countries overall.

The university said most life expectancy reductions could be linked to Covid-19 deaths. There have been nearly five million reported deaths from the coronavirus.

"The fact our results highlight such a large impact that is directly attributable to Covid-19 shows how devastating a shock it has been for many countries," said Ridhi Kashyap, co-lead author of the paper published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

There were greater drops in life expectancy for men than women in most countries, with the largest decline in American men, who saw life expectancy drop by 2.2 years relative to 2019.

Overall, men had more than a year shaved off in 15 countries compared to women in 11 countries. That wiped out the progress on mortality made in the previous 5.6 years.

In the United States, the rise in mortality was mainly among those of working age and those under 60 while in Europe deaths among people aged over 60 contributed more significantly.

Only Denmark and Norway, which have excelled at controlling outbreaks, avoided drops in life expectancy across both sexes.

Lead researcher Jose Manuel Aburto and his co-authors also say the impact of Covid-19 on lifespans may be even greater in less developed countries not in the research.

And losses in life expectancy are also likely to vary between subgroups within countries.

Life expectancy in the United States dropped the most in more than seven decades last year, falling 1.5 years to 77.3 years, a study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in July.

It found the pandemic's disproportionate toll on communities of color also widened existing gaps in life expectancy between whites and blacks.

Before the pandemic, life expectancy at birth increased continuously in most countries for generations. Covid-19, though, "triggered a global mortality crisis," the magnitude of which had not been witnessed since World War II in western Europe or the breakup of the Soviet Union in eastern Europe.

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