Use of “normal” risk to improve understanding of dangers of covid-19 – BMJ

Accumulating data on deaths from covid-19 show an association with age that closely matches the “normal” risk we all face. Explaining risk in this way could help people understand and manage their response, says David Spiegelhalter

As covid-19 turns from a societal threat into a matter of risk management, it is vital that the associated risks are understood and clearly communicated.1 But these risks vary hugely between people, and so finding appropriate analogues is a challenge. Although covid-19 is a complex multisystem disease that can cause prolonged illness, here I focus solely on the risks of dying from covid-19 and explore the use of “normal” risk—the risk of death from all causes each year—as an aid to transparent communication.

  • General population: the risk of catching and then dying from covid-19 during 16 weeks of the pandemic was equivalent to experiencing around 5 weeks extra “normal” risk for those over 55, decreasing steadily with age, to just 2 extra days for schoolchildren
  • Over 55 who are infected with covid-19: additional risk of dying is slightly more than the “normal” risk of death from all other causes over one year, and less for under 55s.