I went to a wildly exciting drinks reception yesterday evening and asked one of the actuaries in my circle how he was feeling. He wittily replied “I feel three months older” and pointed me to the news that life expectancy for males has fallen relative to 2017-18 by a season.
If I had my wits about me, I would have realised that it’s not quite as simple as that , but I had to read this tweet and the article behind it to understand why.
In our latest update, John Ng explains why today’s update does not help us to understand the impact of the pandemic on those of us alive today and sets out 17 factors likely to be relevant when assessing the short, medium and long-term impacts of COVID-19.https://t.co/DJeTxlJob6
— COVID-19 Actuaries Response Group (@COVID19actuary) September 23, 2021
Give us back our lost days!
In 1752, Britain and the United States switched to the Gregorian from the Julian Calendar. There were riots when it was announced that we had “lost 11 days”. This was down to a misconception that man is allotted a time on earth measured by calendars and not by time actually spent.
I suspect that many people will consider the actuarial tables in the same way. Am I three months closer to death because of Covid? The answer is that I might be a whole load closer to death if I get Covid again in a nastier fashion than I did earlier this year but that of all the things likely to kill me, Covid isn’t high on the list.
If you are reading this from beyond the grave because you had Covid on your death certificate, then you may consider yourself unlucky not to have been vaccinated or had the medical treatments available today. You have lost your days and we feel that loss.
But you would not be representative of today’s Covid sufferer.
Another report floating around yesterday claims that it will take the NHS 10 years to recover from the strain Covid put on it. This is of far more interest to those predicting life expectancy and John Ng’s article points to the consequences of Covid as much in its impact on our healthcare systems – both positive and negative. The wearing of face-masks has reduced contraction of the flu (another killer) but there is growing evidence that COVID-19 has indirectly affected the general health and well-being of the population.
This is measured in worrying trends including mental health, cognitive and physical deconditioning among older people, higher alcohol consumption, and substance use disorders. The pandemic has also consumed vast amounts of public funding and resulted in increased fatigue in the health and social care workforce. Uncertainty remains about how much these factors, as well as lifestyle changes such as smoking and physical activity, will affect morbidity and mortality.
The big one
The 50% growth in the world population in the last 30 years has produced significant climate and ecological changes, such as increasing human encroachment on wildlife habitats, deforestation, and intensive animal farming, which in turn expand the interface between human, livestock, and wildlife disease reservoirs. John Ng explains
The World Health Organization has warned of “the big one,” a pandemic with a substantially higher case fatality rate than COVID-19. Woo estimated there were as many as five near-miss pandemics in the past 20 years and suggested that ecological changes had shortened the return period of “the big one.”
What Covid has done is remind us of our own fragile place on the planet and reinforced what was increasingly apparent, that our stewardship of our environment has fallen short of what it should have been. Mark Carney linked Covid and the issues surrounding climate change as two sides of the same coin when delivering his Reith lectures late last year.
Against this gloomy picture of deteriorating health of the planet and its occupants Ng offers some hope
A slim silver lining of the current pandemic is that lessons learned can help us better prepare for future outbreaks. There are learnings from many areas: public communication, test-and-trace initiatives, critical care capacity, global vaccination and manufacturing, real-time data analytics, and the importance of investment into pandemic preparation. Governments, public health experts, scientists, and universities will need to collaborate to build up better infectious disease surveillance and response capabilities and to reduce the mortality and economic burden of potential future pandemics.
The vast majority of us are still here and have not seen are health worsen because of Covid, we may even have a “survivor bias”. We are not the same as in the first quarter of 2020. We may not be three months older because of Covid , but we might be rather wiser.