Northern Ireland's death rate from coronavirus may be only 15% higher than that south of the border - and not 50% as previously claimed, a leading economist has said.
Dr Esmond Birnie, senior economist at Ulster University's Business School, believes Covid-19 death rates here are "broadly similar" to those in the Republic.
Dr Birnie said coronavirus deaths are being measured differently in the two jurisdictions.
He pointed to Northern Ireland's higher population density and larger proportion of over-65s. Both of these factors, he says, predispose it to a higher death rate.
Last week Mike Tomlinson, Emeritus Professor of Social Policy at Queen's University, claimed it was likely Northern Ireland's death rate could be 50% higher than in the Republic.
However, Dr Birnie said: "Subject to caveats, the most recent official statistics suggest that whilst the cumulative death rate in NI may be higher than that in the RoI, this is not by a very large margin (about 15%).
"NI's apparently higher rate might be a result of the probably wider definition used - any case where Covid is mentioned on the death certificate and not just those with a positive test for Covid-19 - as compared to the definition in the RoI: tested positive plus the 'probable and suspected'.
"Death rates in both NI and the RoI appear to be well below those in GB," Dr Birnie said, adding: "Even if one accepts the NI death rate is higher than that in the RoI, notwithstanding some previous commentators, this need not imply that gap can be attributed to the different public policy response in the two jurisdictions.
"In terms of vulnerability to Covid-19, NI's population has two major characteristics predisposing it towards a higher death rate: population density is about twice as high and the share of 65-pluses is also higher. These two structural characteristics could explain much of the gap in death rates."
Two sets of figures on virus-linked deaths are now published in Northern Ireland.
The daily updates provided by the Department of Health count the number of deaths reported by health trusts, where the deceased had a positive test for Covid-19 and died within 28 days.
The department was criticised by the UK Statistics Authority over "gaps and losses" in its data.
Weekly statistics are published by the NI Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra), based on death registration information, and include all deaths where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate by a doctor. Dr Birnie pointed out that Nisra data allow an excess death figure to be measured, adding: "In the case of RoI one has to rely on a source other than official statistics - the online database of death notices (RIP.ie) as used by the University College Dublin economist Seamus Coffey.
"Such calculations are subject to several caveats. First, a baseline has to be identified so we can say what was the 'normal' number of deaths - but is the baseline convincing? Second, how valid is the assumption that 100% of the excess deaths can be attributed to Covid?"