Three in Four COVID-19 Deaths in Patients With Pre-Existing Conditions

Nearly three-quarters of people who have died from COVID-19 had a pre-existing health condition, a senate committee has been told.

The parliamentary hearing also heard that while government planning for PCR test availability had included an increase in cases, states requiring PCR tests for travel purposes had not been factored in.

Overall, 71.2% of the about 1600 deaths from COVID-19 until October last year also had a pre-existing health condition, Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly told the committee on Wednesday.

Diabetes was the most common comorbidity followed by obesity, with chronic lung disease or heart disease also “high on the list of underlying causes”, he said.

However, the most recent death figures only went up until the end of October 2021, and did not include deaths following the start of the Omicron outbreak late last year, he clarified

In addition, data on deaths had been hampered by delays in reports from state and territory governments, Professor Kelly said.

To date there have been more than 3900 fatalities from the infection since the pandemic began, with half of them occurring in just the past two months.

COVID-19 deaths included those due to, or significantly caused by the virus well as cases where COVID-19 had “probably been incidental, asymptomatic and mild”, said Federal Department of Health Secretary Professor Brendan Murphy.

“These people would be recorded as a COVID-19 death, even though there is no plausible, pathological basis for the virus to have caused or significantly contributed to those deaths,” he said.

“As we analyse the deaths through our complex AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) and ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) systems over coming months, I am sure we will get more granularity on that.”

Aged care providers had reported that about 60% of residents who had died were in end-of-life palliative care when they tested positive for the virus.

This suggested most, if not all, had died with rather than from COVID-19, Professor Murphy added.

The hearing heard that the Federal Government had not foreseen such a large demand for PCR tests as COVID-19 infections spiked when the country reopened in November last year.

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