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expert reaction to ONS stats on comparisons of all-cause mortality between European countries and regions: data up to week ending 3 September 2021

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) have released data on mortality patterns and measures of excess mortality of selected European countries and regions for the week ending 3 January 2020 to the week ending 3 September 2021.


Prof Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine, The Norwich School of Medicine, University of East Anglia, said:

“It is very difficult to compare mortality rates from one country to another because of possible differences in the availability of covid testing or cause of death recording from one country to another and indeed within the same country from one time to another.

“Excess deaths are often used as a proxy for deaths due to an epidemic but they do not necessarily adequately measure deaths due to covid. For example, someone who definitely died from covid but who would otherwise have died from some other cause a few weeks later wouldn’t be part of the excess deaths. Because during the 2020/2021 season we had very few cases of influenza non covid deaths would have been somewhat lower and so excess deaths would underestimate actual numbers of deaths due to covid. Nevertheless looking at excess deaths is probably the nearest we can get to an estimate of the impact of the pandemic on mortality between countries.

“With the data presented today there are some interesting comparisons to make. However data for 2020 covers the whole of the year whilst data from 2021 covers just the first six months. Given that many countries had some of their highest death rates around January/February 2021 current estimates of excess mortality for 2021 are probably higher than they will be when we have data for the entire year.

“With those caveats, we can see that excess mortality in 2021 for most countries will be rather lower than in 2020 (the sole exception is Portugal). In the UK there has been a substantial drop in excess mortality from 2020 to 2021 from 99% to 41%

“In 2020 the UK and especially England had one of the highest excess mortality rate with only Spain, Bulgaria and Poland reporting higher excess mortality (and England had a higher rate than Poland)

“So far in 2021 the UK is further down the league table with Portugal , Bulgaria, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic having a greater excess mortality.

“Overall this data paints a picture of major variation in the mortality impacts of the pandemic with in general the Scandinavian (except Sweden) and some of the Baltic states having relative low mortality. But that the impact of the pandemic on all-cause mortality has reduced dramatically in 2021 compared to 2020, though some of that may be due to people who would otherwise had died in 2021 having lost their lives in 2020.”



All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:



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