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Finland's Covid death toll could be overstated by 40%, THL says

Very few patients under 60 have died solely from the virus since last spring, a top specialist at the health agency says.

According to the THL, the median age of coronavirus-related deaths has risen to 85 years. Image: Timo Turpeinen / Yle
Yle News

Covid-19 has not been the actual cause of death in up to 40 percent of fatalities attributed to the illness in Finland, according to Sirkka Goebeler, a chief specialist at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL). As a result, they do not end up in Statistics Finland's official data as coronavirus deaths.

Goebeler's unit examines all Finnish death certificates before they are forwarded to the state statistics bureau. The unit focuses on coronavirus-related death certificates where the attending physician has listed Covid as either the primary or a contributing cause of death.

The THL tally of Covid-related deaths stood at 6,407 on Tuesday – but that figure includes all deaths that have occurred within 30 days of a positive coronavirus test.

According to Goebeler, in nearly 4,000 of these cases, Covid is listed as the primary or immediate cause of death. In almost 1,600 cases, coronavirus is listed as a contributing factor.

In approximately 900 cases initially recorded as Covid-related deaths, the actual death certificates do not contain any indication of coronavirus infection at all.

30-day metric more useful in early days of pandemic

Figures that end up as part of international comparisons may include, for instance, cases where a patient had a serious heart attack before or after being infected with coronavirus, and eventually dies due to heart failure. The accompanying Covid illness may be very mild, and therefore not listed as the cause of death.

In the early stages of the pandemic, the metric based on the 30-day time frame was more useful, according to Goebeler. Even then, there were relatively few false positives.

Average age of Covid fatalities creeps upward

The median age of those who have died after positive coronavirus tests has risen since last spring from 84 to 85. The median age for men is 81, while for women it is 87. 

"Most deaths now occur at the very end of the natural life cycle," said Goebeler.

"You can count on the fingers of one hand the number of patients under 60 who have died solely from Covid since last March," she added.

EDIT 9.11.2022 Swapped 'exaggerated' for 'overstated' in the headline.

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