More than 60 per cent of coronavirus-related deaths in Hong Kong were ‘likely caused by Covid-19’, figure higher among older residents

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More than 60 per cent of deaths tied to the Covid-19 pandemic in Hong Kong were likely to have been caused by the virus, with the proportion even higher among those aged above 60, an internal analysis by the Hospital Authority showed.

The figure marks a rise from the previous rate of about 40 per cent revealed by the public hospitals chief in late March.

Experts said the higher proportion of deaths among older people was due to a low vaccination rate and the presence of pre-existing chronic illnesses.

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The analysis showed that 61.7 per cent of 676 coronavirus deaths during a fifth wave of infections in the city that were examined by a mortality review panel were “likely due to Covid-19”, a proportion similar to the latest figure in Britain. Just 14.2 per cent of deaths were a result of “other significant conditions”, such as cancer, stroke or renal failure.

Hospital Authority chief executive Dr Tony Ko Pat-sing. Photo: K. Y. Cheng
Hospital Authority chief executive Dr Tony Ko Pat-sing. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

The city so far has recorded 9,390 coronavirus-related deaths, with about 98 per cent of them occurring during the fifth wave which peaked in late February and early March.

Back in late March, Hospital Authority chief executive Dr Tony Ko Pat-sing said an initial analysis found that about 40 per cent of the reviewed coronavirus-related deaths so far had been caused by Covid-19, while no direct links to the infection were identified in more than 30 per cent of the other fatalities. The figures were based on more than 230 reviewed cases.

The latest data revealed that the proportion of deaths likely to have been caused by Covid-19 was even higher among those aged above 60, at a rate of 68.2 per cent. For those under that age, the figure was 42.4 per cent.

Meanwhile, those aged below 60 who were infected with the virus were more likely to die as a result of other conditions, at a rate of 29.4 per cent compared with 9.1 per cent for the older group.

Government pandemic adviser Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, a member of the mortality review panel, said the higher death rate among older people likely caused by Covid-19 was fuelled by a low vaccination rate and patients’ chronic illnesses.

“Many of them received zero to one dose of a vaccine, and they had chronic illnesses,” Hui said, citing cancer and heart failure as examples.

Why is Hong Kong’s Covid-19 death rate so high? Breaking down the fifth wave numbers

Respiratory medicine specialist Dr Leung Chi-chiu, who was not involved in the review panel, said the latest findings were not surprising.

“[Elderly people] with chronic illnesses are more likely to develop a serious case of Covid-19,” Leung said. “Covid can also trigger other issues in the heart … or pneumonia and lead to death more quickly.”

Elderly people in Hong Kong were among the groups with the lowest vaccination rates. Despite repeated efforts by officials to increase inoculation levels, only about 68 per cent of those aged 80 or older had received one dose, the lowest among all age groups.

According to provisional government data on deaths involving Covid-19 during the fifth wave, the case fatality rate for unvaccinated people aged 80 or older was as high as 16.45 per cent, compared with 1.23 per cent for those who were triple vaccinated.

Leung said the higher rate of death caused by other conditions among those aged under 60 could be linked to lingering positive results detected by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

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“Even if they have recovered, they could still return a positive result in nucleic acid tests over the next few months,” Leung said, referring to a process known as virus shedding which could affect Covid-19 patients and those who had recovered from the infection. “Their deaths could be caused by other diseases.”

The mortality review panel did not compare Hong Kong’s statistics with overseas data, but the Post found that the city’s proportion of coronavirus-related deaths caused by Covid-19 was either similar to or lower than those recorded in other places.

In Britain, the latest data showed that around six out of 10 deaths involving the coronavirus were caused by Covid-19. In Australia, close to 90 per cent of deaths related to the virus were due to the infection.

The top three causes of death among those who had died after contracting the virus in Australia were cancer, circulatory system diseases and dementia.

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