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Coronavirus: Sharp increase in deaths not all explained by virus, says scientist

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An epidemiologist has sounded the alarm after discovering a sharp signal in excess deaths in Cyprus this year, and has called on authorities to urgently look into the matter, as Covid-19 does not appear to be the cause.

Elpidoforos Soteriades, associate professor of epidemiology and public health at the Open University of Cyprus, tracked all-cause mortality figures as reported by Eurostat – and found a substantial increase in fatalities during the second and third quarters of 2021 compared to the trend in recent years (2016-2021).

The analysis holds up even when factoring in – i.e. deducting – Covid-19 deaths.

Soteriades and a statistician looked at the number of all-cause deaths from 2016 up to the first nine months of 2021.

“The findings are extremely worrying for the current year 2021, showing a statistically significant increase in mortality from all causes in the general population,” the scientist writes in remarks accompanying a slide presentation.

In particular, the data show a statistically significant uptick in deaths in the third quarter of the current year compared to 2020.

“We have noticed that mortality in the general population in 2021 starts to increase in the second quarter of the year and grows much more in the third quarter of 2021. The increase reaches almost 600 additional deaths over and above the expected within a period of six months.”

The scientist also compared mortality data after subtracting the number of deaths from Covid-19, finding that the statistically significant rise in mortality in the third quarter of 2021 still holds.

Soteriades says the findings concern both the comparison with 2019 when the pandemic had yet to arrive here, and with 2020 when the first outbreak occurred.

“At this stage, we cannot attribute the increase to a specific cause(s). However, further investigation is required,” he said.

“Surprisingly,” notes the epidemiologist,” there was no increase in mortality in the general population in 2020 – the first year of the coronavirus pandemic.”

In the first quarter of 2021 there were 1832 reported deaths from all causes – compared to 1742 deaths in 2020 and 1842 in 2019.

The excess mortality signal manifests in the second quarter: 1708 fatalities in 2021, or 172 more compared to the 1536 registered in 2020. The second quarter of 2019 saw 1496 deaths.

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But in the third quarter of this year the ping becomes even more pronounced, with 1798 deaths recorded – or 426 more compared to the 1372 fatalities of the same quarter in 2020.

Otherwise stated, the third quarter saw a 24 per cent jump in deaths when compared to the same quarter of 2020.

Combined, the second and third quarters this year account for a staggering 598 more deaths than the same period last year.

Refining the data to subtract deaths attributed to Covid-19, this year’s third-quarter fatalities come to 1621 – or 252 more than the 1369 recorded in the third quarter of 2020.

Soteriades says there’s a pressing need to immediately investigate this increase in mortality using additional data from the health ministry.

He has relayed his findings to the health minister, as well as to the Cyprus Medical Association and the House health committee.

Meantime data from EuroMomo (https://www.euromomo.eu/) likewise show that the biggest signal in excess mortality in Cyprus occurred in the third quarter – specifically in week 31.

For week 31 (August 2 to August 8) in 2021 the z-score – a measure of the deviation from average mortality – registers at 4.42.

Looking at week 31 of this year, there occurred 19 deaths due to Covid-19. The 19 deaths represent a small proportion of average weekly fatalities.

The z-score of 4.42 is not only the highest of the year for Cyprus, but also the highest on the graph provided, which goes back all the way to late 2017.

For comparison, the second highest z-score (4.02) on the Cyprus chart was registered in week 21 of 2020 – May 18 to May 25 – when no Covid-19 deaths occurred.

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