Excess mortality - statistics - Statistics Explained

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Excess mortality - statistics

Data extracted on 12 February 2021

Planned article update: 12 March 2021


In 2020, excess mortality was high in the European Union, especially in spring and autumn, reaching its maximum in November.

According to monthly data on excess mortality, over 450 000 more deaths occurred in the EU between March and November 2020 compared with the same period in 2016-2019.

Excessive deaths in 2020 December data .gif

This article examines the evolution of the number of deaths that occurred each month, in the European Union and EFTA countries, compared with a so-called ‘baseline’ consisting of the average number of deaths for a particular month over the four years from 2016 to 2019. Responding to the increasing demand for timely data on the current health crisis following the COVID-19 outbreak, this ‘excess mortality’ indicator is expressed as a percentage of additional deaths compared to the baseline period. The higher the value, the more additional deaths have occurred compared to the baseline. If the indicator is negative, it means that fewer deaths occurred in a particular month compared with the baseline period.

During the month of March 2020, the number of deaths rose rapidly in some European countries. In some parts of the EU, deaths were exceptionally high, when compared to the average mortality from 2016-2019. The peak of additional deaths during the early rise of COVID-19 was recorded between March and April 2020, although countries were hit differently. In total, excess mortality in the EU was highest in April 2020, with an increase of 25.1 % compared to the average of the same month over 2016-2019. Thereafter, over the period May-July, only a lower level of monthly excess mortality was registered on average in the EU. More recently, another straight surge in the COVID-19 pandemic started in August-September, with the excess mortality indicator in the EU reaching 8.1 % in September, 17.4 % in October and 40.4 % in November 2020, with the indicator rising in all of the Member States. Around 415 000 more deaths occurred in the European Union between January and November 2020, compared with the same period in 2016-2019. From the real start of the excess mortality (March to November) the excess reached 450 000 deaths in total.

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Excess mortality in Europe between January and November 2020

Excess mortality refers in this article to the number of deaths from all causes measured during a crisis, above what could be observed in ‘normal’ conditions. Therefore, the excess mortality indicator draws attention to the magnitude of the health crisis by providing a comprehensive comparison of additional deaths amongst the European countries and allows for further analysis of its causes. Indeed, whilst the international comparability of data directly associated with COVID-19 may still be arguable due to possible different rules of disease/causes of death classification and coverage issues, this approach gives a general measure of the mortality impact of the COVID-19 pandemic because it includes all deaths independently of their causes.

The excess mortality indicator is based on a new data collection on weekly deaths, which national statistical institutes transmit to Eurostat on a voluntary basis. The currently available dataset that Eurostat publishes with great frequency has been used for computing the excess mortality indicator by mapping the deaths of each week to a full month. The data covered in this analysis include all deaths that have occurred from January to November 2020. For comparison, Eurostat uses the average number of deaths for each month between January 2016 and November 2019 as a baseline. The estimated EU average is based on the data from 26 Member States.

The table of excess mortality is updated monthly.

Table 1: Excess mortality indicator
Source: Eurostat (demo_mexrt)

Both Table 1 and Figure 1 show that fewer deaths than usual occurred in January and February 2020, with the excess mortality indicator mostly negative (-5.7 % and -2.6 % respectively) on average at EU level. Thereafter, the EU aggregated value shows a first peak in March 2020 (+13.7 % in the EU) and then in April (+25.1 %). After that, there is a gradual descent. A surge in excess mortality appears again in August (+7.7 %), September (8.1 %) and October (+17.4 %), with a straight peak in November (+40.4 %). While an excess mortality was observed throughout Europe during the whole year 2020, there was a changing magnitude in different countries as the peak of deaths was reached at different months and with a varying intensity from country to country.

Figure 1: Monthly excess mortality in the EU
Source: Eurostat (demo_mexrt)

The peaks of the outbreak vary greatly across Member States

During the first peak of mortality, in April 2020, three countries went beyond 50 % excess mortality: Spain (+79.4 %), Belgium (+73.9 %) and the Netherlands (+53.6 %). Three other countries exceeded a 35 % increase in mortality in April, namely Italy (+41.5 % although its highest increase had already occurred in March: +49.4 %), Sweden (+38.3 %) and France (+36.4 %). In April, Luxembourg experienced an excess mortality level of +18.9 %, Germany +9.1 %, and Austria +11.0 %. However, it is worth noting that several countries had their spike of mortality in other months: Malta (+16.7 %) in March, Cyprus (+25.4 %) in May, Lithuania (+8.3 %) and Slovenia (+9.1 %) in June, and Portugal (+25.3 %) in July. In all these countries, a relatively stable period (compared to the baseline 2016-2019) followed the high increase of mortality in spring. In Belgium, there was even a significant decrease of -6.6 % in July.

More recently, a second sharp increase in the excess mortality appeared in most Member States, even in those not particularly concerned by peaks in spring. More than a 10 % increase, compared to the baseline, was registered for the first time in Romania in July (+11.7 %), in Poland in August (+11.2 %), and in Czechia (+11.3 %) and Greece (+10.3 %) in September. Starting from September, the upturn became stronger and generalised, reaching new peaks in November, with significantly high rates in Bulgaria (95.7 %), Poland (97.2 %), Slovenia (91.0 %), Czechia (76.8 %), Romania (63.5 %) and Hungary (56.8 %). Among the EU countries which were already strongly affected in spring, excess mortality was still high, in November, in Belgium (59.0 %), Italy (49.5 %), Austria (47.9 %), Malta (37.5 %), France (31.1 %) and Spain (27.5 %).

It should be stressed again that, while a substantial increase largely coincides with a COVID-19 outbreak in each country, the indicator does not discriminate among the causes of death and does not catch differences across sex and age classes.

In the tool below you may select the country you would like to analyse.

Further releases

Data for the most recent months are provisional, so that the 2020 global trend will be clearer with the next update of the table in March.

Source data for tables and figures

Data sources

The excess mortality indicator, covering EU and EFTA countries, is based on currently available weekly deaths data transmitted to Eurostat by Member States on a voluntary basis. Data are continuously updated with more recent weeks of mortality statistics; these weeks are then attributed pro rata to months for computing the excess mortality indicator. For the purpose of the excess mortality indicator, the numbers of deaths for the latest weeks available in a Member State are corrected for incompleteness. This happens when the country estimates that the completeness of the data is still lower than 90 %. All data for 2020 remain provisional and subject to revision.

‘Excess mortality’ has been identified as the most useful indicator for assessing additional deaths complementing other regularly updated indicators of the European Statistical Recovery Dashboard. In order to capture the dynamics of mortality changes in a more comprehensive way, the excess mortality indicator is calculated for each month, no later than 45 days after the end of the reference period (depending on data available to Eurostat from the National Statistical Institutes).

The reason for an excess mortality may vary according to different phenomena. The indicator is a more comprehensive measure of the total impact of the pandemic on deaths than the confirmed COVID-19 death count alone. In addition to confirmed deaths, excess mortality captures COVID-19 deaths that were not correctly diagnosed and reported, as well as deaths from other causes that may be attributed to the overall crisis condition. It also accounts for the partial absence of deaths from other causes like accidents that did not occur due, e.g., to the limitations in commuting or travel during the lockdown periods.

The aggregated data of monthly excess mortality is timely enough to demonstrate the impact of the current COVID-19 outbreak. Data were extracted from Eurostat’s online database on 12 February 2021.


Within the context of ongoing health crises, including the recent rise in COVID-19 infections in Europe and worldwide, the excess mortality indicator provides additional insight into the crisis impact on European societies.

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Excess mortality - monthly data (demo_mexrt)
Weekly deaths - special data collection (demomwk)

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