Trends in deaths from road injuries during the COVID-19 pandemic in Japan, January to September 2020

Inj Epidemiol. 2021 Jan 18;7(1):66. doi: 10.1186/s40621-020-00294-7.


Background: In Japan, the latest estimates of excess all-cause deaths through January to July 2020 showed that the overall (direct and indirect) mortality burden from the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Japan was relatively low compared to Europe and the United States. However, consistency between the reported number of COVID-19 deaths and excess all-cause deaths was limited across prefectures, suggesting the necessity of distinguishing the direct and indirect consequences of COVID-19 by cause-specific analysis. To examine whether deaths from road injuries decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic in Japan, consistent with a possible reduction of road transport activity connected to Japan's state of emergency declaration, we estimated the exiguous deaths from road injuries in each week from January to September 2020 by 47 prefectures.

Methods: To estimate the expected weekly number of deaths from road injuries, a quasi-Poisson regression was applied to daily traffic fatalities data obtained from Traffic Accident Research and Data Analysis, Japan. We set two thresholds, point estimate and lower bound of the two-sided 95% prediction interval, for exiguous deaths, and report the range of differences between the observed number of deaths and each of these thresholds as exiguous deaths.

Results: Since January 2020, in a few weeks the observed deaths from road injuries fell below the 95% lower bound, such as April 6-12 (exiguous deaths 5-21, percent deficit 2.82-38.14), May 4-10 (8-23, 21.05-43.01), July 20-26 (12-29, 30.77-51.53), and August 3-9 (3-20, 7.32-34.41). However, those less than the 95% lower bound were also observed in weeks in the previous years.

Conclusions: The number of road traffic fatalities during the COVID-19 pandemic in Japan has decreased slightly, but not significantly, in several weeks compared with the average year. This suggests that the relatively small changes in excess all-cause mortality observed in Japan during the COVID-19 pandemic could not be explained simply by an offsetting reduction in traffic deaths. Considering a variety of other indirect effects, evaluating an independent, unbiased measure of COVID-19-related mortality burden could provide insight into the design of future broad-based infectious disease counter-measures and offer lessons to other countries.

Keywords: COVID-19; Excess deaths; Exiguous deaths; Japan; Road injuries.