Covid sees biggest fall in life expectancy in England since 1940s

Impact of coronavirus deaths on life expectancy rates reveals full scale of pandemic

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Thursday 18 March 2021 18:45
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<p>Life expectancy fell sharply during the first half of 2020</p>

Life expectancy fell sharply during the first half of 2020

The coronavirus pandemic caused the largest fall in life expectancy across England since the Second World War, new data has revealed.

The average life expectancy at birth for men in 2020 dropped by 1.3 years and was down 0.9 years for women compared to 2019, the largest fall since 1939-40.

Data published on Thursday by Public Health England (PHE) found life expectancy fell sharply during the first half of the year, coinciding with the first wave of the pandemic.

Between January and June life expectancy at birth for men fell 1.7 years compared to the same six months a year earlier. For women, the drop was 1.5 years.

PHE said the numbers did not mean babies would see their lives cut short by that amount as mortality rates would change over time, but the figures were an alternative way of showing the effect of Covid-19 deaths on the population.

The agency said it was possible life expectancy would bounce back after the pandemic.

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More than 140,000 people have now died in the UK with Covid-19 listed as the underlying cause on their death certificate. The virus caused more deaths in 2020 than any other infectious disease since 1918, the year of the Spanish flu epidemic.

Dr Veena Raleigh, senior fellow at The King’s Fund, said the pandemic had caused almost 72,000 excess deaths compared with 2015-19 average.

She said: “Such a drop is unprecedented in modern times, representing the biggest fall in life expectancy since the Second World War. It is all the more worrying as improvements in life expectancy had already slowed significantly in the decade before the pandemic, with deep and widening health inequalities between the richest and poorest areas.

“This data exposes the widening inequalities in England, with life expectancy falling by nearly two years in the poorest areas compared with one year in the richest.

“In 2020, the life expectancy difference between the richest and the poorest grew to more than 10 years for males and 8.5 years for females. These staggering gaps highlight the urgent need not only to control the virus but also to address the underlying causes of the deep socio-economic and health inequalities that have prevailed for far too long.”

She added there had already been 32,000 excess deaths in England up to 5 March with the second peak of the virus being far larger than the first.

She warned that despite the vaccination rollout the virus would claim more lives: “The risk of life expectancy continuing to fall below pre-pandemic levels is therefore very real.”

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