Governments around the world must rapidly mobilize and make difficult policy decisions to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Because deaths have been concentrated at older ages, we highlight the important role of demography, particularly how the age structure of a population may help explain differences in fatality rates across countries and how transmission unfolds. We examine the role of age structure in deaths thus far in Italy and South Korea and illustrate how the pandemic could unfold in populations with similar population sizes but different age structures, showing a dramatically higher burden of mortality in countries with older versus younger populations. This powerful interaction of demography and current age-specific mortality for COVID-19 suggests that social distancing and other policies to slow transmission should consider both the age composition of local and national contexts as well as the social connectedness of older and younger generations. We also call for countries to provide case and fatality data disaggregated by age and sex to improve real-time targeted nowcasting.
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