Britain could have been hit harder by Covid-19 than other European countries, because the past two winter flu outbreaks were only mild, according to a study.
Researchers say influenza kills the same groups of people as the coronavirus, with both diseases posing the greatest danger to the elderly and those with underlying conditions.
Data showed a clear trend between less intense flu seasons and high coronavirus mortality rates, with Belgium escaping the flu slightly but being battered by Covid-19.
England suffered the second worst coronavirus death rate of the 32 European countries analyzed, after only experiencing a mild flu season in the past two years.
Public Health England statistics show about 20,000 deaths – the one that is above average – of flu each year.
But during the 2018/19 outbreak, only 1,700 additional fatalities were registered, said lead author Dr. Chris Hope, who claimed the 2019/20 season was also “ very mild. ”
It means that in England alone, more than 30,000 people were alive at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, expected to die in the two previous flu seasons.
Dr Hope, a policy modeling expert, added that these people were likely predominantly elderly and in poor health – two known risk factors for the coronavirus.
Statistical data show that nearly 90 percent of all confirmed and suspected coronavirus victims in England and Wales are over 65 years of age.
The data is plotted to establish a ‘trend line’, to discover a link between milder flu outbreaks and more coronavirus deaths
The study, which has not yet been published in an academic journal, used data from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control on Flu Intensity for 32 European countries.
The EU body assesses the flu intensity as a score between one and four. The figure is based on how badly each country has been affected by the flu.
Countries then received a total score of 35 weeks in both annual outbreaks – and the average was then worked out and used for the survey.
BRITISH AND BELGIAN GRADE ONLY FOR TACKLING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
Britain is at the bottom of a devastating global ranking that compares how countries have addressed the Covid-19 pandemic.
Only Belgium performed worse, according to a review of tests, health care and mortality rates that gave 21 OECD member states a score of four.
The UK (2.22) was on a par with Italy and Spain. Sweden, which went against the trend controversially and chose not to impose a lockdown, scored higher (2.56).
The Economist Intelligence Unit has produced an index to assess the quality of responses in more than half of the 37 OECD Member States.
All countries – including the US and Australia – received a score of one to four out of three different quality of response measures.
These included the number of tests available, the provision of non-Covid-19 healthcare and excessive deaths, or how many more people died than expected.
Nations were also rated for three risk factors for coronavirus, including prevalence of obesity and their percentage of those over 65.
The ultimate risk factor related to international arrivals, based on the number of people who traveled to the country as part of the population.
Each country achieved an average score, with excess deaths given the highest weight because it was considered the most important figure.
Analysts behind the report claimed that the low scores for both Spain and Italy were “understandable” as they were hit first in Europe.
They said the UK’s response was too slow even though it had ‘time to prepare’, also blaming a lack of testing capacity and the controversial decision to end contact tracking in March.
New Zealand performed best (3.67). The US – whose performance was “not as bad” as death rates suggest – came in the middle of the table (3.11), the report revealed.
For example, England had a flu intensity of 23. Scotland had an average of 12, Wales 18 and Northern Ireland 29, according to Dr. Calculations. Hope.
He also compared Covid-19 to June 10 mortality rates for the same countries, to find out how many infected patients died for every 100,000 people.
The data was then plotted to establish a ‘trend line’ to discover a link between milder flu outbreaks and more coronavirus deaths.
The results showed that more Covid-19 deaths have occurred in countries that have experienced fewer flu deaths in the past two winters.
Belgium – which has recorded the worst coronavirus death rate in Europe (84.2 per 100,000 people) – had the lowest flu intensity, except Scotland.
The country’s mortality rate on the coronavirus was 36 per 100,000 above the trendline, reflecting Dr. Hope empowers.
Scotland is expected to theoretically have one of the highest mortality rates from Covid-19, as it had the mildest flu season score.
However, it fell slightly below the trend line for excessive deaths. Dr. Hope made no explanation as to why Scotland was below average.
There are a number of factors that can explain why Scotland did not perform as badly as Belgium in the Covid-19 crisis, including how the government handled it.
There were only six countries in the study that actually fared worse than Scotland in the pandemic, data suggest.
England is the second worst hit during the pandemic, with 65.5 deaths per 100,000, and it has had a below-average flu intensity in recent years.
But the coronavirus death rate was well above the trendline with more deaths than would be expected based on the severity of the flu.
Italy, France and Ireland were also severely affected by the pandemic, according to Dr. Calculations. Hope – who, he said, showed “flaws” in their reliability.
And Sweden – which went against the global trend and opted against a lockdown – had more Covid-19 deaths than expected, given the mild flu outbreaks.
Dr. Hope wrote that further trials were needed “to determine if the relationship is as significant as this initial analysis suggests.”
He said, “The newspaper is not trying to make statements about whether individuals were lucky or unlucky about the flu or coronavirus.
It simply reports my initial statistical findings as a policy modeller regarding the apparent statistical relationship between flu season severity and COVID-19 deaths.
FREE FLU JABS CAN BE OFFERED TO ALL 50+
All over-50s in Britain could catch the flu on the NHS this winter, according to plans that ministers would consider dealing with a second wave of Covid-19.
Government advisers have already recommended that number 10 consider vaccinating the “ entire population ” against the flu to free hospital beds.
Insiders now say Downing St plans to buy 10 million extra doses for those over 50, but have warned that delivering the jabs could be a logistical nightmare.
Labor has urged all over-50s to get a free flu vaccine to avoid a “perfect storm” from a winter flu outbreak and a second Covid-19 wave.
Leader Sir Keir Starmer said the government owed it to the NHS to do everything possible to prevent the two outbreaks from coinciding.
The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has warned that a revival of Covid-19 could bring the ‘NHS to a halt’ if it strikes alongside flu.
Sir Starmer says 10 million extra doses are ‘doable’, but manufacturers have admitted they may not meet supply demand in such a short time.
All people over the age of 65, pregnant women, young children and British people with serious illnesses such as asthma or heart or kidney diseases receive free flu shots.
‘The correlation with flu intensity cannot explain everything, but it seems to be significant and there is a plausible causation theory. That certainly deserves further investigation. ‘
Dr. Hope added further studies to explore what the five countries in common well above the trendline – Belgium, England, Italy, France, and Ireland – have in common.
He said, “One possibility is a particularly thorough report of Covid-19 deaths. Another is a possible lack of attention for care homes in the early stages of the pandemic.
Another possibility is the population density. Or it could just be random variation around the trendline, as is always present. ‘
Dr. Hope admitted that several weeks’ flu data was missing for some countries, especially during the Christmas and New Year period.
He also warned that the deaths of Covid-19 were only registered until June 10 and that “it is not clear that all countries followed the same procedures” for registering fatalities.
Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert and professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said the study design is not reliable.
It is known as an “ ecological study ” that is “ widely regarded as a very poor quality of evidence ” due to shortcomings in the statistics, he said.
He told MailOnline: “This would not be considered serious research in any epidemiological journal. My negative opinion on this document should not be taken as a sign that I think this is a problem not worth further investigation.
It’s certainly plausible that some of the Covid-19 deaths occur in people who may have died in the previous year if they contracted the flu. I just don’t think you can draw reasonable conclusions from this one work.
Association cannot be taken as the cause. Does one cause the other or something else drive both? ‘
The flu shot shot in the UK for people over 65 has fluctuated around 72 percent in the past three winters, figures show.
There have been calls to extend the free flu shot program this year to those in the 50 to 65 category, which would require around 10 million additional doses.
Union leader Sir Keir Starmer has urged all over-50s to receive a free flu vaccine to prevent a “perfect storm” from a winter flu outbreak and a possible second Covid-19 wave.
The flu vaccine, which is redesigned every year to be specific to the flu strains that are expected to circulate in winter, would not protect against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19.
The goal of vaccinating more people against the flu would be to alleviate healthcare concerns.
There is concern that the flu may overwhelm NHS hospitals, which are already at risk of being hit by a resurgence of the coronavirus later this year.
Ministers are already considering plans to vaccinate more people against the flu, after government scientific advisers recommended it.