HIQA publishes descriptive analysis of the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic across European countries

Date of publication:

HIQA has published a descriptive analysis of the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as several factors that are likely to have influenced the course of the pandemic in European countries. 

The analysis, which was requested by the Department of Health, examined trends in five epidemiological indicators of the burden of COVID-19, from 1 January 2020 up to 30 November 2021. The indicators were:

  • confirmed cases of COVID-19
  • hospitalisations (new admissions and total patients) with COVID-19
  • intensive care unit (ICU) admissions and total patients in ICU with COVID-19
  • reported COVID-19 deaths
  • excess mortality (that is, mortality above what would normally be expected). 

We examined factors that may be important in understanding the context for different trajectories of the COVID-19 pandemic observed across countries. These included baseline conditions in place before the pandemic (for example, population demographics) and factors relating to interventions taken to mitigate the effects of the pandemic (for example, rates of vaccination or testing). 

HIQA’s analysis showed that, between March 2020 and November 2021, Ireland experienced five peaks in the incidence of COVID-19. The cumulative case rates for COVID-19 in Ireland were in line with, or below, the average of the 27 EU member states (EU-27), during the period examined. 

There were 5,514 COVID-19 deaths reported in Ireland up to 30 November 2021. The highest numbers of COVID-19 deaths occurred in April 2020 and February 2021, with the cumulative death rate in Ireland remaining consistently below the EU-27 average. Excess mortality occurred in Ireland during a seven-week period from late March to mid-May 2020 and an eight-week period from early January to late February 2021. 

Dr Conor Teljeur, HIQA’s Chief Scientist said: “As part of this analysis, we also reviewed several factors that are likely to have influenced the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, Ireland has a relatively young population and a lower population density than most other European countries, but a much higher proportion of people living in households of three or more persons. We also considered how COVID-19 testing approaches and public health restrictions changed over time, and differences in how and when vaccination rollout occurred. These factors, among others, strongly limit the conclusions that can be drawn from comparing the burden of the pandemic across countries.”

You can find the report on our website, www.hiqa.ie. 

Ends.

Further information:
Marty Whelan, Head of Communications & Stakeholder Engagement
01 814 7480/085 805 5202, mwhelan@hiqa.ie

Notes to Editor:

  • HIQA has today published the following documents: 
    • Descriptive analysis of COVID-19 epidemiological indicators and associated contextual factors in European countries
    • Protocol for descriptive analysis of COVID-19 epidemiological indicators and associated contextual factors in European countries
  • During the pandemic, the criteria for recording COVID-19 deaths differed and changed over time, limiting direct comparisons between countries. In addition, there were differences in how cases were measured in the various countries.  
  • The descriptive analysis reviewed data for the EU-27 countries and Norway, Switzerland, Ukraine, and the UK.
  • The primary data source was the Our World in Data COVID-19 data repository, which collates data from a variety of official national and international organisations. Excess mortality data for Ireland were provided by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) while data for other European countries were from the European Mortality Monitoring (EuroMOMO) dataset. 
  • HIQA noted two peaks in hospital and ICU admissions, which occurred in April 2020 and January 2021. Other European countries also experienced significant increases in hospitalisations around these times, with a number of countries experiencing peaks that were higher and of a longer duration than in Ireland. 
  • Excess deaths for a country are calculated by estimating the expected number of all-cause deaths for a particular time period, based on historical trends in that country, and then subtracting these from the actual number of all-cause deaths observed during that time. 
  • HIQA’s COVID-19 Evidence Synthesis Team provides evidence reports and evidence-based advice to the Department of Health to inform public health policy, advice and practice in the context of COVID-19.
  • The topics researched by HIQA’s COVID-19 Evidence Synthesis Team are outlined and prioritised by the Department of Health to ensure rapid access to the best available evidence relevant to the COVID-19 pandemic.