A new study published last week in Frontiers, a peer-reviewed journal, has concluded that government measures designed to contain the spread of the coronavirus are not linked to reduced levels of mortality.
The study was conducted by a number of scientists from French universities and biomedicine and epidemiological research institutes, and based on an analysis of data from 160 countries, accounting for a total of 846,395 deaths over the first eight months of 2020. The authors of the study collected data on: life expectancy and its change over time; public health context (metabolic and non-communicable diseases as well as infectious diseases); GDP and government financial support; and government measures designed to fight the pandemic.
Government measures were assessed using data from the Oxford Covid-19 Government Response Tracker, which “systematically collects information on several different common policy responses that governments have taken to respond to the pandemic on 17 indicators,” such as lockdown and partial closures, testing policies, and contact tracing.
The study’s authors made a number of conclusions, some of which were already known and unsurprising, such as the connection between obesity and coronavirus mortality, which has been known and documented for months. Other findings were more unexpected and potentially controversial.
The study’s authors noted that humans seem to have a certain plateau of development (in matters such as life expectancy, height etc.) that once attained, exposes populations to threats more easily combated by less developed societies, as more developed societies have “reduced margins of adaptability” and “become more susceptible to new constraints.”
This was apparent in the high mortality rates from coronavirus where life expectancy is relatively high and relatively stable (either slightly increasing or decreasing). These countries tend to have higher GDP and a high rate of non-communicable diseases (such as heart disease, diabetes, and degenerative illness) – and of course, the two are often linked. These countries “had the highest price to pay” in terms of coronavirus losses.
These countries have “older and frailer populations [which are] susceptible to increased mortality rates when facing physical or biological aggressors,” and are more likely to die of “chronic diseases: mainly cardio-vascular diseases (CVD), metabolic (diabetes, high blood pressure), and neuro-degenerative diseases or cancers,” the study found.
The study also pinpointed the “metabolic and CVD risk factors associated with high death rates, such as sedentary lifestyle, poor nutrition quality, or obesity” which “have a large prevalence in high income countries and rise in developing ones. Such comorbidities were early associated with a higher risk of death from Covid-19.”
In contrast, countries with a lower death rate had a “low GDP, lower life expectancy but greater progression of LE, and a higher death rate from infectious diseases.”
None of this is particularly surprising, of course, but the study also showed that, “The death rate appears not to be linked with the responses of governments … stringency of the measures settled to fight pandemia, including lockdown, did not appear to be linked with death rate.”
The study’s authors also noted that the correlation between frailty and mortality has previously been observed, such as in the “2003 heatwave, which killed 30,000 to 50,000 people in Europe … 80% of them being elderly people.”
They concluded that: “An advisable strategy may be to increase populations immunity and resilience and prevent sedentary behaviors through higher physical activity and better physical fitness. Hence, political strategies restricting physical activity (e.g., closing sport facilities) may refrain the enhancement of population immunity in response to present and future viral aggressors.”