Saving lives or the economy in the coronavirus pandemic is a “false choice”, MPs have warned as a study confirms the UK to have one of the highest excess death rates combined with the worst projected hit to the economy.
Data analysed by the Guardian shows the UK has effectively endured the worst of both worlds, with 610 excess deaths per million while GDP is set to fall by 11.5% this year. This places it narrowly ahead of Italy and Spain, which also have high excess death figures and devastating economic forecasts.
Only Belgium had a greater proportion of excess deaths from Covid at 862 per million, though it is predicted to fare a little better economically, with a drop in GDP of around 9%, according to analysis of data on 18 countries from the OECD and Our World in Data based at the University of Oxford.
Conservative MP Dan Poulter, vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) for coronavirus, said: “The OECD data is very concerning and helps show the danger of thinking that the coronavirus pandemic presents us with a binary choice between saving the economy or saving lives.
“This is a false dichotomy, and the truth is that minimising community transmission will allow a faster and stronger economic recovery. This is why the APPG on coronavirus has been pushing government to aim to reduce Covid-19 transmission to as close to zero as possible in preparation for the difficult winter months ahead.
“The government should look at [this graph] and act swiftly to … move as close to ‘zero Covid’ as is possible in the UK. This will allow us to save lives in the event of a second wave, but also lead to a fuller and faster economic recovery by avoiding subsequent damage to the economy through further lockdowns.”
At the other end of the spectrum in the Guardian’s analysis are a host of countries that have managed a lower excess deaths-per-million figure and limited economic damage.
According to data captured on 24 August, South Korea has an excess deaths-per-million figure of just six and is expected to have a fall in GDP of 1.2%. Australia, Denmark and Norway are similarly affected.
New Zealand, which had a strict lockdown early in the crisis, has an excess death rate of 4.5 but a relatively high economic cost at a forecast 9% drop in GDP.
UK government advisers have placed significant emphasis on excess death figures. England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, has described them as “the key metric” in international comparisons.
Ministers initially published an international comparison for death rates but then moved to cut that information from the slides at the daily Downing Street press conference, saying it did not show the full picture of how the country was faring in the pandemic.
A government source said the excess death rate is still useful in terms of providing a picture of how Covid has affected the country but they suggested a better picture of the UK’s resilience could be gathered at the end of 2020 for an annual comparison.
They said the GDP fallout comparison also needed contextualising: if the UK’s economy was based on manufacturing and construction, it would have fared much better, they claimed. It is not about economic mismanagement or poor choices compared to other countries, they suggested, but the fact the UK’s heavy service sector was hit by lockdown.
A government spokesperson said: “Every death from this disease is a tragedy and our sympathies are with all those who have lost loved ones.
“At all stages we have been guided by the latest scientific advice, and the action we have taken has allowed us to protect the vulnerable and ensure the NHS was not overwhelmed, even at the virus’ peak.
“Many economies around the world are facing tough times, but we have put in place unprecedented package of support to protect businesses, jobs and livelihoods, including schemes to raise capital, flexibilities with tax bills, and financial support for employees.”
Source: The Guardian