Deaths are running high across Europe this winter, particularly before Omicron came along. But it’s not Covid, at least, half of it isn’t. Between the start of July and mid-December, in nine European countries, around 86,000 more people than usual died, but Covid deaths numbered around 42,000, leaving around 44,000 above-average deaths from other causes – more than doubling the excess mortality. To put this in context, in the previous winter there were no excess deaths from other causes across these countries – there were around 5,600 more Covid deaths than excess deaths – meaning the alarming trend is new this season. The question is, why? Why is winter 2021-22 seeing high non-Covid excess mortality when winter 2020-21 didn’t see any at all?
The chart below depicts the trends in Covid mortality and excess mortality (top graph) and the difference between them i.e., non-Covid excess mortality (bottom graph) in the nine countries. The data comes from Our World in Data, and the nine countries – Austria, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and U.K. – are the nine Western European countries which report excess deaths data weekly and had data available up to mid-December. Between them they have a population of 218,646,258. To ensure the comparison is as accurate as possible the two curves are aligned using the peak of winter deaths in 2020-21, which allows for additional reporting delays in excess mortality. (This is why the excess mortality line is a week shorter than the Covid mortality line, and also why the figures quoted above are rounded as the estimates are not precise.)