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More heartbreaking days ahead as Victoria’s COVID-19 death rate triples

He said the improved case numbers offered a reason for Victorians to hope but the state still faced a long struggle against the virus.

“We just can’t allow any sense of complacency to creep in here,” Mr Andrews said. “This is an ultra-marathon and we just have to keep pushing forward each and every day.”

Almost 60 per cent of people who have died from COVID-19 in Victoria were nursing home residents. International research released last week identified a coronavirus fatality rate of almost 37 per cent among people older than 85 who become infected.

Monday’s deaths included one man aged in his 60s, four women and three men aged in their 70s, six women and four men aged in their 80s, and four women and three men aged in their 90s.

“People who are old are more likely to have severe infections, therefore are more likely to die, that’s the obvious explanation for what is going on,” said University of Melbourne epidemiologist Professor John Mathews.

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With 22 of Monday’s new fatalities linked to nursing homes, experts are warning of more difficult days ahead as thousands of patients who tested positive at the height of the second surge in early August – when Victoria was recording daily averages of 500 new COVID-19 cases – enter the most dangerous period of the illness.

Professor Peter Collignon, an infectious diseases expert at the Australian National University Medical School, said Victoria could experience more big death tolls in coming days before numbers started to fall next week, provided cases stabilised.

Professor Mathews, meanwhile, said he was hopeful deaths could reduce to three to four a day by the time the latest lockdown is due to end in mid-September.

University of Melbourne epidemiologist Tony Blakely, who calculates that Victoria’s second surge reached its height on August 4, said he expected to see mortality rates peak very soon.

“I’m expecting to see the number of deaths go down in a day or so, or in a couple of days,” he said. “The lag time is two weeks, on average, from when you get the disease to when your maximum chance of dying is. So it should be going down soon.”

Globally, the case-fatality rate from coronavirus is 3.58 per cent, according to Johns Hopkins University data. But the number varies wildly from country to country, with some nations picking up a limited proportion of their cases, probably the most sick patients, leading to overblown death rates.

Britain, where about 46,800 people have died, has a case-fatality rate of 14.6 per cent.

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“It just shows how many cases they miss,” said Professor Collignon, who added there was a chance Victoria had also been missing some milder cases, helping to drive up the rate of deaths.

“There’s a bit of a bias when you’re a bit over-run and you may not pick up a lot of the younger cases because they have milder disease and they still may not get tested.”

He said it was likely the true global case-fatality rate for coronavirus was about 1 per cent, although the disease becomes exponentially more dangerous as people age.

The recent global research identified a fatality rate of almost 37 per cent for people older than 85, while those aged 75 to 84 had a fatality rate of 8.9 per cent. Rates were also elevated for people aged in their 60s and 70s.

“A 60-year-old adult who gets infected faces a fatality risk more than 50 times higher than the annual fatality risk of driving an automobile,” the international paper, co-authored by Australian epidemiologist Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, concluded.

For people aged 34 or below, the odds of dying from coronavirus are the same as the odds of dying in a car crash, about one in 10,000, the paper says.

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