The COVID-19 pandemic is around five to 10 times more lethal than seasonal influenza for people aged 50 and over, the COVID-19 Actuaries Response Group has estimated.
Based on statistics for coronavirus cases in Italy published on 26 March, the group estimates that the mortality rate is likely to be around 4% for men aged over 50, and 3% for women of the same age.
Separate data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is consistent with World Health Organization figures, puts the mortality rate for flu at around 0.5% for the over-50s.
After making adjustments for potential undiagnosed coronavirus cases, the COVID-19 Actuaries Response Group said that the pandemic could be 10 times more lethal than seasonal flu for men, and five times more deadly for women.
“This comparison excludes the question of infectiousness, but the coronavirus seems to be more infectious than other well-studied influenzas,” the group said on its LinkedIn page. “Taking that into account exacerbates the above comparison in terms of overall mortality impact.”
When looking at the population as a whole, the COVID-19 Actuaries Response Group estimate that the pandemic has a case fatality rate of 2% for males and 1.5% for females.
The group also warned in a separate bulletin that assuming coronavirus victims only had short life expectancies anyway due to underlying health issues sends a “dangerous message”.
Government adviser professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London recently said that up to two-thirds of deaths from coronavirus might have happened this year anyway because most fatalities were among older people or those with other health conditions.
However, the COVID-19 Actuaries Response Group said that older people with managed conditions such as diabetes would generally still have several years of life expectancy, even with the presence of adverse risk factors such as obesity or smoking.
“Actuaries are able to provide well-based advice in the context of life expectancy given our extensive experience in this area,” the group's bulletin says.
“The fact that only a tiny fraction of impaired lives have life expectancies of the order of one year makes it seem unfounded to claim that a large portion of the COVID-19 deaths of 2020 would have died in any case this year.
“As well as this being false, this claim is dangerous from a public health perspective if it encourages a 'so why should I care attitude', thus endangering adherence to government policy on social distancing.”