Italy’s mortality rate in 2020 ‘highest recorded since World War II’

Italy's mortality rate in 2020 'highest recorded since World War II'
An inscription reading "Forever in my heart" with flowers on a grave in Bergamo, in a section where people who died from Covid-19 have been buried. (Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP)
Italy in the past year recorded the highest mortality rate seen in the post-war period, according to new figures released on Thursday.

“In 2020, total deaths from all causes were the highest ever recorded in our country since the Second World War,” national statistics agency Istat stated in a new report.

In the sixth report on the impact of Covid-19, produced jointly by Istat and the Higher Institute of Health (ISS), Italy’s resident population recorded 746,146 deaths in 2020 and from January-April 2021 – making the figure 100,526 higher than the previous five-year average.

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“Considering the changes in standardised mortality rates obtained by relating deaths to the population with the same age structure, mortality in 2020 showed an increase of 9 percent nationally compared to the average from the five-year period 2015-2019,” stated the report.

As well as the mortality rate, the report summarised the main characteristics of the spread of Covid-19 and analysed the latest epidemic phase of the first four months of 2021, including the effects of the vaccination rollout.

Central and southern Italy ‘do not show significant changes’

According to the report’s health data, the picture differs by region.

The areas showing significantly higher increases compared to the national average are Piedmont, Valle D’Aosta, Lombardy and the autonomous province of Trento.

In broad terms, there’s a north-south divide as the regions of central and southern Italy “do not show significant changes”, stated the report.

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Analysing the spread of the virus in the first few months of 2021, the provinces with the highest incidence rates were those in the north-east.

The provinces of Bologna, Gorizia, Forlì-Cesena, Udine, Rimini and Bolzano recorded the highest figures.

At the other end of the scale, some of the lowest incidence rates appear in some provinces of Sardinia – South Sardinia, Oristano and Sassari, in Calabria – Catanzaro, Cosenza and Crotone, and Sicily – Ragusa, Enna and Agrigento.

‘One in five’ deaths from Covid-19

The age group that has been the most affected by the virus are those between 65-79, with the highest percentage of deaths caused by Covid-19.

One in five deaths in this age group is attributable to Covid-19, revealed the report.

The below figure shows the daily trend in fatalities between February 2020 and April 2021.

The highest number of daily deaths in Italy due to the coronavirus was recorded on March 28th, 2020 with a total of 928, while in the second wave the peak was on November 19th with 805 deaths, the study showed.

For the first four months of 2021, the study revealed that the average age of confirmed Covid-19 cases is going down.

12 percent of cases were under 14 years old, 17 percent were between 15 and 29 years old, 52 percent between 30 and 64 years old, and 20 percent were over 65 years old.

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The 0-49 age group now accounts for 58 percent of reported cases compared with 52 percent for the whole of 2020.

The median age group of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the first 4 months of 2021 decreased to 40-44 years, while for those reported by December 31st 2020 it was 45-49 years.

The statistics are improving for the older population.

Also in the analysis of the first four months of 2021, compared to 2020, a further decrease in percentages of infections was recorded in the very elderly population – 80 years and older – and a lowering of the age of reported cases overall.

The drop in deaths in the over 80s compared with March 2021 “explains 70 percent of the drop in total deaths observed between March 2021 and March 2020”, the report showed.

The study also revealed a gender imbalance.

Men have been affected the most, as “the estimated contribution of Covid-19 deaths to overall mortality confirms that the impact is more pronounced in the male gender,” added the report.

Impacts of the vaccination rollout

These decreases are “a sign of how the vaccination campaign, recommendations and prevention measures implemented have been successful in reducing disease transmission in the elderly population,” stated the report.

The analysis also put this change down to “increased diagnostic capacity and contact tracing activities that have facilitated the identification of cases among the younger population”, as the study notes that this category is more usually asymptomatic.

Such tracing activities include identifying if you have come into contact with a person testing positive for Covid through apps such as ‘Immuni‘.

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The below chart from Our World in Data shows Italy’s accelerating vaccination campaign, now ahead of the EU average for the share of people who have received one shot.

Some 40.5 million vaccinations have been administered in Italy with a total of 13,654,623 people fully vaccinated, making up just over a quarter of the population over 12 years old, the latest government figures show.

“The second ISS report on the impact of Covid-19 vaccination in the Italian population showed a progressive reduction in the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection, hospitalisation and death,” noted the study.

It added that vaccinations have considerably lowered risk, with a 95 percent reduction starting from the seventh week after the first vaccine shot is administered.

“Since March 2021, the positive effects of the vaccination campaign, which has prioritised protecting the most fragile population, are beginning to be observed,” stated the report.

The graph shows the trend in the number of Covid-19 cases reported in Italy by date of collection/diagnosis. The epidemic curve shows that the impact of the second wave, in terms of the total number of daily cases reported, is much higher than that of the first wave. During the second wave, the curve dropped in the first months of the year and then rose again at the end of February, albeit more moderately than at the peak recorded in Italy at the beginning of September. Source: Istat.

In Italy, from the start of the epidemic “with evidence of transmission” on February 20th 2020 until April 30th 2021, 4,035,367 positive Covid-19 cases were reported, the health data showed.

Of that figure, 1,867,940 were logged in the first four months of 2021, making up 46 percent of the total sum.


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