ENGLAND and Wales suffered the highest excess death toll in the world during the first Covid wave, a study suggests.
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The study included 21 countries and excluded the US.
The 21 countries that were analysed were: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechia, Denmark, England and Wales, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Scotland,
Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
The experts stressed lessons must be learned if we are to avoid a devastating second wave.
They analysed deaths from any cause in 19 European countries, Australia and New Zealand, from mid-February to May.
These were compared with figures from previous years, adjusted for changes in weather, ages and other factors.
The results indicate there were 206,000 more deaths than would have been expected if the pandemic had not occurred.
More than one in four of these – 28 per cent – occurred in England and Wales.
Some deaths were directly from Covid, while others were due to wider disruption to healthcare and economic and social despair.
It includes those where people were unable to get care or failed to seek help for fear of catching Covid or being a burden.
Ten countries, including New Zealand, Poland and Denmark, avoided any detectable rise in deaths during the pandemic.
But Italy, Spain and Scotland were among others to suffer a “very high” surge, the Imperial College London experts found.
England and Wales fared worst, Italy was second worst with 48,700 excess deaths and Spain third, with 45,800.
The excesses were equivalent to a 38 per cent increase in Spain, 37 per cent in England and Wales and 28 per cent in Italy.
Bulgaria had 1,110 fewer deaths than normal – better than any other nation.
Researcher Dr Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard said countries with higher excess deaths typically locked down later and had poor test and trace systems.
They also had less healthy populations and had under-invested in healthcare.
He said: “Our research suggests a number of factors may influence why some countries had a higher number of deaths than others.
“Countries with comprehensive and effective community-based testing and contact tracing programmes, or those without such systems but who implemented early and effective lockdowns, had lower death tolls during the first wave.
“In the UK, we had to stop community testing tracing around 11 days before the lockdown because we didn’t have the capacity, or the resilience across our system for a variety of reasons.
“And that’s really important when we look to the future.
“One of the big learnings was those countries who have effective test and trace systems require less severe and less prolonged lockdown.
“And that’s important not just for the economic impacts but also the health, mental, physical health and economic related health impacts.”
Dr Pearson-Stuttard added: “It’s worth bearing in mind that the health of our population is not great in many risk factors – obesity, diabetes, other multimorbidity issues – compared to other countries and that has played some part in the overall finding here.”
Austria, which had very low numbers of deaths from all causes, has nearly three times the number of hospital beds per person than the UK.
The NHS suspended non-urgent operations during the crisis to focus on Covid and other emergencies.
The Health Secretary Matt Hancock recently claimed that cancer treatment could only be guaranteed if Covid-19 “stays under control”.
Since then the government has introduced a three tier lockdown system, which has seen pubs close in places such as Liverpool and a ban on households mixing in other parts of the country such as Manchester and Cheshire.
Researcher Prof Majid Ezzati said: “Long-term investment in the national health system is what allows a country to both respond to a pandemic, and to continue to provide the day to day routine care that people need.
“We cannot dismantle the health system through austerity and then expect it to serve people when the need is at its highest, especially in poor and marginalised communities.”
The findings are published in the journal Nature Medicine.