Faced with those who still question the incidence of the COVID-19 pandemic on mortality, the European statistical office Eurostat publishes a study on mortality in the European Union between March and June that estimates deaths higher than that of almost 170,000 average of the previous years, the so-called excess mortality.
A clear peak is observed in the months of March and April and the worst hit countries are Spain and Italy.
Eurostat has calculated the “normal” mortality, the average of the period between weeks 10 and 26 (March to June) from 2016 to 2019 and has crossed them with the mortality of the same period in 2020.
The Eurostat animation shows the evolution of the weekly excess mortality between February 24 and June 28. The fateful weeks of March and early April (13, 14 and 15) are perfectly visible.
The result, although it does not take into account the causes of death, only the statistics of the deceased, is unequivocal.
The spike of 36,000 additional deaths compared to the four-year average occurred in week 14 (late March – early April). Beginning in week 19 (early May), there were fewer than 5,000 additional deaths each week, with fewer deaths than the average recorded in June, in weeks 22 and 25.
Almost 30% of excess deaths (48,000) occurred in Spain, closely followed by Italy with 46,000 deaths and France with 30,000. Germany and the Netherlands registered around 10,000 deaths each and the rest of the countries for which data are available about 25,000.
According to data obtained by the European statistical office, excess mortality was slightly higher in men than in women in March and vice versa in April, although to a lesser extent.
In terms of age groups, 96% of deaths, 161,000 occurred in the age group over 70 years. The 90+ age group had the worst, with almost 40% of additional deaths, followed by 80-89 years (37%) and 70-79 years (just under 20%) .
The excess mortality figures are very difficult to calculate, among other things because they do not include the causes of death. In Spain, there are great disparities between the figures published by the National Institute of Statistics, which would have accounted for 11,000 surplus deaths in the second wave of COVID-19, since July, and the official figures of the Ministry of Health, which are 5,600 deceased from the new coronavirus.
This disparity between the official count and the figures from the civil registry of the National Institute of Statistics has been occurring since the beginning of the pandemic and is the subject of discussion among demographic experts.
One of the theories that experts consider is that mortality has increased with deaths related to other diseases, due to the collapse of the health system in many regions.
They also point out that death statistics generally take longer to arrive. Health services are striving to publish data quickly which contributes to data that is far from perfect.
Last week, a scientific study ranked Spain as the country with the highest excess mortality out of a list of 21 industrialized countries ahead of England and Wales. Published in the journal Nature, it estimated that there had been 100 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, 38% more than expected, while a long of countries did not exceed 5%.
The COVID-19 victim count problem is not limited to Spain. A lengthy New York Times report estimates that there are 364,000 excess deaths worldwide that are not captured in official COVID-19 death statistics. Also the weekly The Economist is monitoring excess mortality and points out that the balance of victims could be much higher.