New Covid-19 estimates find that, among European nations, the peak daily death rate from the pandemic will occur during the third week of April, with the pandemic spreading from Southern Europe. 

The new forecasts, released by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine, find that approximately 151,680 people will die during what researchers are calling the “first wave” of the pandemic. 

“We are expecting a foreboding few weeks for people in many parts of Europe,” said IHME Director Dr Christopher Murray. “It seems likely the number of deaths will exceed our projections for the United States.”   

This is despite the declines in deaths that are now occurring in Italy and Spain.  

The death toll in many countries is compounded by demand for hospital resources well in excess of what is available. For example, peak demand in the UK is expected to total 102,794 hospital beds needed compared to 17,765 available, 24,544 ICU beds compared to 744 ICU beds available, and 20,862 ventilators needed (with data currently unavailable on ventilators available).  

UK is still early in trajectory according to IHME

Research finds that most regions of Italy and Spain have passed their peaks in the number of deaths, while other nations are approaching their peaks and still others facing peak mortality later in April.  

Countries that are about to peak or are quickly approaching peak in this wave of the epidemic include the Netherlands, Ireland, Austria, and Luxembourg. The Czech Republic and Romania are midway through their expected trajectories. Other nations including the United Kingdom, Germany, Norway, and Greece are still early in their trajectories and face fast-rising death tolls through their peaks in the second and third weeks of April.  

“It is unequivocally evident that social distancing can, when well implemented and maintained, control the epidemic, leading to declining death rates,” Murray said. “Those nations hit hard early on implemented social distancing orders and may have the worst behind them as they are seeing important progress in reducing their death rates. Each nation’s trajectory will change – and dramatically for the worse – if people ease up on social distancing or relax other precautions.”  

Murray cautioned that easing these precautions too soon during “the first wave” of the pandemic could lead to new rounds of infections, hospitalisations, and deaths. He defines the end of this “wave” as a ratio of 0.3 deaths per 1 million people. IHME’s projections assume that social distancing measures, if not currently implemented, will be implemented within one week.  

Social distancing can lead to declining death rate

“To decrease the risk of a second wave in places where the first wave is controlled by robust social distancing, governments would need to consider mass testing, contact tracing, and quarantines for those infected until a vaccination is available, mass produced, and distributed widely,” Murray said. 

This is the first set of predictions for European nations and is based on modeling the peak in death rates and hospital usage in Wuhan City in China, where the virus was first discovered, as well as data from seven European locations that have peaked, including Madrid, Spain; Castile-La Mancha, Spain; Tuscany, Italy; Emilia-Romagna, Italy; Liguria, Italy; Piedmont, Italy; and Lombardy, Italy. 

Of these eight locations that have reached the peak regarding daily deaths, only one, Wuhan, has currently brought new cases to nearly zero. 

The analysis is based on an extensive range of information and data sources, including: 

  • Local governments, national governments, and the World Health Organization 
  • Government declarations on implementation of social distancing policies 
  • Age-specific death rate data from China, Italy, South Korea, and the US