COVID-19 continues to affect communities and families across the country and many have lost family members and friends. Beyond deaths attributed to the disease itself, the pandemic could also have indirect consequences that increase or decrease the number of deaths as a result of various factors, including delayed medical procedures or increased substance use. To understand both the direct and indirect consequences of the pandemic, it is important to measure excess mortality, which occurs when there are more deaths during a period of time than what would be expected for that period. It should be noted that, even without a pandemic, there is always some year-to-year variation in the number of people who die in a given week. This means that the number of expected deaths should fall within a certain range of values. Excess mortality occurs when the number of deaths exceeds that range.
From January to mid-December 2020, there were an estimated 296,373 deaths in Canada, representing an excess of 13,798 deaths above and beyond what would have been expected had there been no pandemic. This is about 5% more deaths than expected in that period, after accounting for changes in the population, such as aging, and about 7% more deaths than the 277,276 observed within the same time frame in 2019.
Today, as part of Statistics Canada’s commitment to provide timely and relevant information on COVID-19 and its impact on Canadians, an updated provisional dataset from the Canadian Vital Statistics Death Database covering the period from January to mid-December is now available.
Updates were also made to the provisional death estimates, which have been adjusted, where possible, to account for the incomplete nature of the counts. The provisional estimates will continue to be revised in future releases as more information is reported by provincial and territorial vital statistics agencies.
The direct impacts of COVID-19 cannot fully account for the excess deaths observed in Canada in 2020, particularly in the fall
In the early months of the pandemic, the weekly number of excess deaths and deaths caused by COVID-19 were closely aligned and mostly affected older populations, suggesting that COVID-19 itself was driving excess mortality in Canada. However, more recently, the number of excess deaths has been higher than the number of deaths due to COVID-19,