A new study comparing countries most severely hit by COVID-19 during the first wave of the pandemic has found that international travel showed the biggest impact on increases in death rates.
A research team from the University of Aberdeen examined a range of factors including country-level international arrivals, population density, the percentage of people living in urban areas, age, average body mass index and smoking prevalence.
They then compared these to mortality rates across the 37 countries most severely affected by the first wave of the pandemic.
They found that once adjustments were made for these factors, as well as for the impact of socioeconomic and environmental conditions and healthcare systems, the biggest increase in death rates was associated with international arrivals.
Their work focused on the early stages of the pandemic, using international travel data for 2018 as a proxy for 2020 data before international travel restrictions were imposed. They found that an increase of a million international arrivals was associated with a 3.4% increase in the mean daily increase in COVID-19 deaths during the first wave of the pandemic.
Some countries chose to close their borders during the first wave of the pandemic, for example, New Zealand, and others imposed strict checks at airports. New Zealand has had a total of 25 deaths since the start of the outbreak.
The Scottish Government has announced the introduction of a managed quarantine system for anyone who arrives directly into Scotland regardless of which country they have come from ‘as soon as practicably possible.’
The First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon said
“We want to work with the UK Government to avoid travellers sidestepping restrictions and arriving in other parts of the UK before travelling to Scotland, however the most effective approach to prevent this and to stop new variants being imported is for the UK Government to introduce a compulsory quarantine for anyone travelling into the UK from overseas.
“Since we still have work to do these measures will not be introduced this week and more detail will follow shortly.”
Currently it is illegal to travel in/out of Scotland except for essential reasons.
Stats for the 3rd of February in Scotland were as follows:
- 978 new cases of COVID-19 reported
- 22,807 new tests for COVID-19 that reported results – 5.1% of these were positive
- 88 new reported death(s) of people who have tested positive
- 128 people are in intensive care with recently confirmed COVID-19
- 1,871 people are in hospital with recently confirmed COVID-19
- 649,262 people have received the first dose of the Covid vaccination and 8,758 have received their second dose
National Records of Scotland has recorded 8,347 deaths where covid is mentioned on the death certificate. In the UK the number of deaths where covid is mentioned on the death certificate is a shocking 112,660.
The research by a team of medical student researchers from the University of Aberdeen was supervised by Professor Phyo Myint and Dr Sohinee Bhattacharya.
Researcher, Tiberiu Pana, a final year medical student, said:
“A year on since the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in China, this pandemic has unfortunately spread across the globe. Nevertheless, the initial spread of the virus in early 2020 appeared to affect different countries unequally, with the United Kingdom and other western European countries being especially affected.
“We were interested to understand the country-level factors that influence the spread of the pandemic and our team of medical students with research experience collected a wide range of publicly available data on country-level demographic, economic, environmental, population health and health system factors for the most affected countries during the first wave.”
The authors analysed the relationship between these factors and the mean increase in daily deaths recorded in each country during this time frame.
“We found that international travel was the strongest predictor of mortality increase.
“Another factor which appeared to play an important role was country-level BCG vaccination coverage, increases in which may be associated with decreases in death rates. Nevertheless, these associations were weaker and further work looking at individual patients is required to clarify these potential relationships.
“Our assessment of available data indicates that very early restrictions on international travel might have made a difference in the spread of pandemic in western Europe, including the UK.
“These findings are particularly important as the world looks to control future waves and strains of the COVID-19 pandemic and prevent related deaths.”
Professor Phyo Myint, Director of the Aberdeen Clinical Academic Training Scheme said:
“This is important research led by University of Aberdeen Medical Students who have demonstrated robust use of publicly available data to inform future policies in preventing spread of the COVID-19”.
The work was supported by the University of Aberdeen and the Aberdeen Clinical Academic Training Scheme. and published in BMJ Open