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Top Charts Canada – Excess deaths in Canada: 2020 compared to history

AUTHORED BY RICHARD BROWN, March 2021

In this regular column, Club Vita’s longevity experts will help you visualize the often abstract world of longevity by introducing some of their favourite charts.

In this edition of Top Charts, Richard Brown looks at excess deaths in Canada and compares the extreme experience in 2020 to previous years back to 1921.

Question:

How do the excess deaths that occurred in Canada during 2020 compare to historical figures?

Answer:

In the available historical data going back to 1921, we haven’t seen the level of excess deaths as high as what Club Vita has estimated occurred in 2020 in over eighty years.

Excess deaths is a term used to quantify how many more people died in a given period than the number of people that were expected to die. This number will vary a little depending on what method has been used to calculate the number of people expected to die.

In the charts below, we have compared the actual number of deaths in Canada to the expected number of deaths, calculated by taking the five-year running averages of observed annual deaths (e.g., 2015 actual deaths are compared to the average over 2013 to 2017). Other than 2020, where the full five years of data is not available (i.e., 1921, 1922, 2018 and 2019), simple linear regression over a proximate five-year period was used to obtain the expected number of deaths. For 2020, expected deaths were developed based on weekly deaths over 2015 to 2019, and actual deaths were based on adjusted weekly deaths to November 7, 2020 published by Statistics Canada, with actual deaths for the remainder of 2020 estimated by Club Vita, taking into account COVID-19 deaths reported by the Government of Canada. This approach suggests actual deaths during 2020 exceeded expectations by 6.5%, however the true increase in deaths is not yet known given delays in the reporting of deaths.

Source: Club Vita calculations based on data from the Human Mortality Database for years 1921 to 2018 and Statistics Canada data for 2019 and 2020.

Key takeaways

  • The fluctuation of excess deaths in Canada has been remarkably stable since the 1950s, while larger variations were more common over the 1920s, 30s and 40s.
  • Even so, the number of deaths in 2020 are estimated to have been around 6.5% higher than expected.
  • The 2020 result is significantly higher than any other year over the past 75 years, and is moderately higher than the larger increases experienced during the early decades shown.

The key questions is: What will happen now?

  • Will the number of deaths quickly bounce back to pre-pandemic levels after a successful deployment of vaccines?
  • Or will we see continued heightened mortality due to factors such as lingering health effects of the pandemic, knock-on effects to the economy and healthcare, or mutations to the virus making vaccines less effective?
  • Or could we even see a drop in mortality rates due to factors such as a survivorship effect, innovations in healthcare and vaccine technology, and/or a renewed appreciation for respiratory hygiene?

What do you think?

Please post your questions in our Friends of Club Vita discussion group on LinkedIn.

Richard Brown, COO, Club Vita Canada