Years of life lost due to lockdown could be 30-times worse than COVID-19 itself

The impact of the lockdown’s economic contraction on South Africans’ mortality, or the “years of life lost”, could be 30-times worse than the reduction in mortality due to COVID-19.

This is the stark warning from Pandemics – Data & Analytics (PANDA), who were commenting on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s gradual opening of the economy.

“The proposed two-week timeline for this transition, from level 4 to level 3, is far too long considering the current economic risk,” PANDA said.

“With every passing day, the consequences of the continued lockdown have become more extreme and threaten the very viability of South Africa and its increasingly fragile economy.”

PANDA provided Ramaphosa and members of the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) with their analysis of the economic impact of the current national lockdown.

The report shows that the lockdown has caused a sharp contraction in production and exchange in the economic system, some of which is likely to recover over years, rather than weeks or months.

It is currently estimated that the South African GDP could shrink by between 10%-15% as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The temporary and permanent aspects of that contraction have an impact on the ability of millions of people to make a living.

PANDA estimated that the large job and revenue losses would drive more people into poverty, and 3.3 million people out of employment.

This reduction of income will, in turn, cause a material decrease in life expectancy across the South African population.

Years of life lost

Years of lost life is an analysis that calculates the number of years of life lost when someone dies due to an incident, compared with that person’s remaining life expectancy at the point of death.

This figure can be measured across a population to estimate the aggregate years of life lost (YLL).

PANDA ran two sets of numbers. The first focuses on understanding what the reduction in life expectancy would be as a direct result of people contracting COVID-19.

The outcome is compared to a second set of numbers which considers the reduction of life expectancy as a result of the economic damage and hardships caused by the lockdown.

“We estimate the lockdown’s economic contraction on South Africans’ mortality, or the ‘years of life lost’, could be 30-times worse than the reduction in mortality due to actual contraction of the virus,” said PANDA co-ordinator, Nick Hudson.

“We derive our 30-times multiple by taking the low point of the economic contraction effect and dividing by the high point of the hospital overburdening effect. Under a less conservative view, this multiple would be substantially higher,” explained Hudson.

Calls to end the lockdown

There have been increasing calls from medical experts, economists, business people, and citizens to end the lockdown across South Africa.

A group of academics have published an analysis which shows extending the lockdown is no longer required. The hard lockdown is not reducing transmission rates and has become unaffordable.

“South Africa needs to accept that it is not on a unique trajectory. The virus cannot be eliminated. The country’s strategy needs to move away from a hard lockdown,” the article states.

The academics suggested using a risk-assessed framework which permits all economic activity, except where there is a clear and material threat to public health.

This view is shared by Dr Glenda Gray, a member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) and chairperson of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC).

She told News24 the government’s phased exit from the lockdown is nonsensical and unscientific.

She said the month-to-month phasing-out of the lockdown has no basis in science and many lockdown regulations were thumb sucks.

The impact of the extended lockdown is starting to emerge, and “we are seeing children with malnutrition for the first time at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital”, she said.

“We have not seen malnutrition for decades,” she added.

She suggested the lockdown should be eradicated completely, and that non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as hand-washing, wearing masks, social distancing, and prohibitions on gatherings, should be put in place.

Now read: The extended lockdown will destroy South Africa – Wits Professor

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Years of life lost due to lockdown could be 30-times worse than COVID-19 itself