Esmond Birnie: There is still no sign of a clear difference in the Covid-19 death rate between Northern Ireland and the Republic

The cumulative Covid-19 death rate in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland was broadly similar, using as comparable a basis as possible.

Wednesday, 15th July 2020, 6:15 pm
Updated Wednesday, 15th July 2020, 6:21 pm
Northern Ireland has a higher elderly population than the Republic of Ireland (over 60s are generally much more liable to die from Covid)

The statistics for the period until 25 June indicate a rate of 42 and 35 per 100,000 population, respectively.

That difference is not that large and might be partly/largely explained by variations in definitions and reporting.

The difference, however, may be ‘real’, explained in part by Northern Ireland’s higher population density and relatively older population.

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Dr Esmond Birnie is senior economist, Ulster University Business School

We can be very certain that the cumulative death rates in both Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland (RoI), 42 and 35 respectively, were far short of those in Great Britain (GB): 82 for England and Wales and 74 for Scotland.

Some of that difference between NI and RoI and GB may be explained by the much higher population density in England: three times higher than that NI and six times higher than that in RoI.

Some international comparisons, notwithstanding the caveats as to whether a Covid death is being defined in exactly the same way, are much less favourable to NI and RoI.

Rates have been many times higher than those in New Zealand, Australia, Austria, Finland, Norway and Denmark.

• Comparison of death rates in terms of Covid-related in all settings

This exercise is not as straightforward as might be hoped — there are uncertainties as to how far the data include all deaths related to Covid, it is unclear to what extent like is really being compared to like, and there are lags in terms of how up-to-date the results are.

Here is a comparison until mid to late June 2020:

• Northern Ireland — 795 deaths

(Included Covid-19 on death certificate, according to Nisra (26 June 2020)

420 deaths per million

136 population density per squ km

• Republic of Ireland — 1,705 deaths

(Included Covid deaths across all settings — those with a positive test for the virus plus “probable and suspected”. Health Protection Surveillance Centre)

346 deaths per million

71 population density per squ km

• England & Wales — 48,538 deaths

(Included Covid-19 on death certificate. ONS 23 June 2020, “Deaths registered weekly in England and Wales, provisional”)

817 deaths per million

392 population density per squ km

• Scotland — 4,070 deaths

(Included CovidD-19 on death certificate. ONS 24 June 2020, “Deaths involving coronavirus in Scotland, Week 25, 15 to 21 June 2020”)

745 deaths per million

70 population density per squ km

Northern Ireland has a much higher population density (high density makes rapid spread of the virus more likely because social distancing is harder).

Northern Ireland also has a higher elderly population (over 60s are generally much more liable to die from Covid).

At the same time, given a higher proportion of the population from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, the RoI’s susceptibility to Covid-19 deaths may have been somewhat increased (though given that the population share difference is only about three percentage points probably not by enough to outweigh the favourable impact of having a younger and less dense population).

• Comparison to other western countries

Data shows that across the western countries higher population density is generally associated with relatively higher Covid-19 death rates.

Of countries shown in a diagram in the research accompanying this article, NI ranks 9th out of 26 in terms of population density and also 10th of the 26 in terms of Covid death rates.

High population density countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK have some of the highest Covid-19 death rates.

It is also true that some lower density countries such as France, Spain, Sweden and the USA also have relatively high death rates.

The data suggests that rather than the RoI’s death rate being relatively low it is out of line compared to other western countries with very low population densities. The same applies to NI.

NI’s rate is about seventy times that in Australia and New Zealand and four to six times higher than that in Austria, Finland and Norway and three times that in Denmark.

• Dr Esmond Birnie, Senior Economist, Ulster University Business School

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