Weekly death statistics


Data extracted on 9 September 2021

Planned article update: 12 October 2021

Highlights


880 000 additional deaths in the EU and EFTA between March 2020 and July 2021 compared with the average number for the same months in 2016-2019

After a steady decrease in April-May 2021, in June and July 2021 the overall number of deaths went down, closer to the baseline level recorded in 2016-2019


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This article provides information on the trend in the number of weekly deaths in all the Member States of the European Union and EFTA. This is particularly useful for assessing the direct and indirect effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the European population (see Data sources section on country coverage).

COVID-19 has triggered considerable interest in high-frequency mortality statistics. However, users are often faced with different data sources, figures and analyses, which are not always accompanied by consistent background information on methodologies, data coverage and reliability. It may be difficult to compare data strictly associated with the pandemic across the different data sources, due to different rules on classifying diseases and causes of death. Therefore, total mortality can be a viable alternative for monitoring the direct and indirect effects of the crisis. This approach gives a general measure of the mortality impact of the pandemic, as it includes all deaths independently of their cause. The total number of deaths underlines the magnitude of the health crisis, providing a comprehensive comparison of additional deaths between European countries. This approach gives a general measure of the mortality impact of the crisis as it includes all deaths independently of their cause: this in turn allows users to undertake further analysis. Comparing the number of deaths in 2020-2021 with that of previous years (the average in 2016-2019) shows, at aggregate level, how exceptional the first months and the end of 2020 were in European countries, as well as developments in the most recent weeks and months.


Full article


Extreme rise of deaths in spring and autumn-winter 2020, followed by a decline starting in late spring 2021

The weekly deaths data collection provides a comprehensive overview of a period during which Europe and the world became familiar with daily death tolls due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, comparing COVID-19 data at international level may be misleading due to different rules on classifying causes of death, as well as coverage and registration issues. Furthermore, during a pandemic, mortality rates may be higher than originally thought for several reasons. In some countries, statistics may initially exclude victims who did not officially test positive for COVID-19. Delays in registration may also occur and potentially create lags and flaws in the data. Finally, but importantly, COVID-19 lockdown measures can discourage people from going to hospital or consulting a doctor, making other diseases harder to cure, which may indirectly lead to an increase in deaths from causes other than the virus itself.


Between March 2020 and July 2021, around 880 000 additional deaths were recorded in the EU and EFTA, compared with the average number for the same months in 2016-2019.

At the beginning of March 2020, the number of deaths rose rapidly in some Member States. The difference compared with previous years was exceptionally high in some parts of the EU, while other areas were less severely affected. Among the 27 EU and 4 EFTA countries, there were 540 000 more deaths in 2020 than annually in the years 2016-2019. Comparing specific periods, at the peak of the first wave of COVID-19 (i.e. from mid-March to mid-May 2020 or weeks 11 to 21), there were 179 000 additional deaths compared to the average of previous years.

During the second larger wave (i.e. from October to the end of December 2020 or weeks 41 to 53), there were 340 000 additional deaths. In the first wave of the pandemic, certain countries and regions in western Europe were more severely hit than others, whereas the second wave (still active in January-February 2021) affected a larger territory and most of the deaths occurred in the eastern part of Europe. In February 2021, the second wave was losing strength, with some notable exceptions in the eastern parts of the EU (Czechia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Poland and Estonia). In March and at the beginning of April 2021, there was a slight increase in the European average number of deaths, with the aforementioned countries still above the average level, while others (Portugal, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Cyprus) had no excess deaths.

At the end of April and in May 2021, the overall trend pointed generally to a decline, with the number of deaths getting down towards the baseline recorded between 2016 and 2019. In June and July 2021, the overall number of deaths went further down, close to the baseline level recorded in 2016-2019. Considering national rates, the range of values still varies considerably across countries (see Table 1 below).

Figure 1: Weekly deaths in the EU and EFTA countries, 2020-2021 and average 2016-2019
Source: Eurostat (demo_r_mwk_ts)

Each year has a specific mortality pattern, which also differs from region to region. Aggregated data for 2018, for example, show the toll of the seasonal flu epidemics in late February and early March. There is also a striking similarity in previous years in terms of a steady decrease between March and the end of May 2020 (week 22), as seen in Figure 2. Between September 2020 (week 36) and June 2021 (weeks 22-25), the curve was almost constantly above the trend of 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. In July 2021 (weeks 26-30) the ratio between weekly deaths and the baseline is getting closer to 1.

Figure 2: Weekly deaths, EU and EFTA countries, 2016-2021
Source: Eurostat (demo_r_mwk_ts)

Number of deaths much higher in 2020-2021 than in previous years

When comparing 2020-2021 with the annual average for 2016-2019 in the countries analysed, two distinct waves can be observed. The first wave runs from week 11 (9-15 March 2020) - when the number of deaths started to exceed the average of the previous 4 years – to week 20 (17-23 May 2020). The second wave starts in late summer but becomes more pronounced after week 41 (11-17 October 2020) and continues to worsen during the winter to reach 550 000 additional deaths at the end of 2020. In January-February 2021, the number of deaths decreased. It spiked again at the end of March and the beginning of April 2021 (week 13) reaching 20 % of excess mortality compared to the baseline period 2016-2019. Between April and July 2021, the number of deaths declined for the EU and EFTA as a whole.

Figure 3: Weekly deaths in the EU and EFTA countries, differences between 2020-2021 and average 2016-2019
Source: Eurostat (demo_r_mwk_ts)

Wide disparities between countries

European countries were not affected in the same way or at the same time by excess deaths. Table 1, below, compares the weekly deaths between November 2020 to July 2021 with the average of the baseline period, where the rate 100 would indicate the equivalence between total deaths in 2020-2021 and in the baseline period, i.e. 2016-2019 (the complete table is available within the attached Excel.jpg file).

It is worth noting that week 53 (28 December 2020 to 3 January 2021) has been compared to the average week 52, in the absence of a corresponding week during the baseline period.

In March 2020, Italy had significantly more deaths than in previous years. It was the first country to reach a peak: 187 % increase in week 13 (23-29 March 2020). However, the sharpest increase in the number of deaths was in Spain: 258 % in week 14 (30 March-5 April 2020). Other countries, such as Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Sweden, reached their peak in week 15 (6-12 April 2020). In the second half of 2020, after week 26 (beginning of July) and even more pronouncedly in the autumn (after week 38-39), the excess deaths started to rise again in most countries but with different patterns. Countries in the central and eastern parts of Europe experienced a high increase in mortality during the autumn months of 2020.

Table 1: Weekly deaths in the EU and EFTA countries, 2020-2021 compared to 2016-2019 average (2016-2019 average = 100)
Source: Eurostat (demo_r_mwk_ts)

A sharp increase in excess deaths occurred in several countries between week 41 (5 October 2020) and weeks 48-49 (until 12 December 2020) which corresponds to the peak of the second wave (notably Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechia, Croatia, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Luxembourg, Romania and Slovenia). Although Bulgaria, Czechia and Poland did not register a sharp increase in mortality in the spring of 2020 (first wave), at the peak of the second wave the number of deaths was significantly higher than the annual average of the previous 4 years. The number of deaths and the peak periods for excess deaths vary from country to country.

In 2021, excess deaths peaked in some countries from January to April: Slovakia (highest peak in week 2), Portugal (week 3), Czechia (week 10), Bulgaria and Hungary (week 13), Poland (week 14) and then bounced back in May except for Lichtenstein for which the peak was in May (week 18). Based on available data for June and July 2021, most countries were close or even below the 2016-2019 baseline except for Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Greece, Cyprus and, more recently, Spain and Ireland, for which some peaks were observed during the month of July.


You can select the country you would like to analyse in the tool below.


Tool 1: Number of deaths by week

The total number of additional deaths in 2020 largely corresponded to the size of the country's population. In week 11 (9-15 March 2020), the increase was mainly due to deaths in Italy. In weeks 12-13, around 84 % of the deaths occurred in Spain, Italy or France, with other countries gradually recording more deaths. By week 15 (6-13 April 2020) half of the additional deaths were reported by Spain, Italy or France. In weeks 37-50 (September-December 2020) Poland and other central and eastern European countries not strongly affected by the springtime peak, contributed more to the difference. This continued in the first half of 2021, when seven countries (Czechia, Slovakia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Estonia) accounted for almost 50 % of the additional deaths.

Hardest hit regions

Major differences were noted not only between countries, but also between regions within a country. Map 1 compares deaths in weeks 10-18/2020 (2 March to 3 May, first wave) with the same weeks in 2016-2019, while Map 2 presents the same comparison for week 41-50/2020 (5 October to 13 December, second wave). The most recent months are displayed in the animated GIF at the end.

Regional data (available at up to NUTS 3 level depending on the country) show how in some areas, such as the north of Italy, central Spain including Madrid, the east of France and the Paris region, the increase in the number of deaths is particularly significant. Map 2 shows the regional disparities in the rise in the number of deaths during the autumn 2020 weeks.


Map 1: Weekly deaths in the EU and EFTA countries, weeks 10-18, 2020 compared to 2016-2019 average
Source: Eurostat (demo_r_mwk3_t)


Map 2: Weekly deaths in the EU and EFTA countries, weeks 41-50, 2020 compared to 2016-2019 average
Source: Eurostat (demo_r_mwk3_t)

In spring 2020, the NUTS 3 regions hardest hit by excess mortality in the reference period are mostly located in Italy and Spain. From 2 March to 3 May 2020 (weeks 10-18), Bergamo, Cremona, Segovia, Lodi, Brescia and Piacenza had more than three times the number of deaths than the average for the same period in the previous 4 years. As many as 18 of the 25 most affected regions in the EU were in Italy or Spain. During the autumn-winter surge, deaths rose across a much larger proportion of Europe's territory. This time, peaks of additional deaths were registered in central and eastern parts of Europe, namely in Czechia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Poland. While extraordinary peaks in mortality were less focused on a specific number of regions, the 'second wave' saw a higher increase in the number of deaths overall.

Wide disparities between regions

In the last week of February 2020 (week 9), the NUTS 3 region of Lodi in Italy had nearly double the number of deaths than in the same week in the previous 4 years. In week 10 the Italian regions of Bergamo and Cremona joined Lodi (all in Lombardy) in recording an extremely high number of deaths. In week 11 (9-15 March 2020) the group of heavily affected Italian northern regions grew to include Piacenza, Parma and Brescia. All these Italian regions (plus Lecco and Pesaro-Urbino) still had a high number of deaths in week 12, while in that same week the Spanish regions of Soria, Segovia and Madrid, and Haut-Rhin in France, saw their number of deaths more than triple compared with the same week in 2016-2019.

In weeks 13-14 (23 March-5 April 2020), the hardest hit areas also included the Spanish regions of Guadalajara, Ciudad Real, Albacete, followed by Salamanca, Cuenca and Barcelona. In week 14, the regions Seine-Saint-Denis, Hauts-de-Seine, Val-d’Oise and Val-de-Marne in France, the Noordoost region in the Netherlands and Brussels, Belgium were also among the most affected areas. In week 15 (6-13 April 2020) overall deaths decreased in Italy and Spain's affected regions, but in central Spain, the Paris region, north Italian regions, and regions in Belgium and the Netherlands, deaths were more than three times higher than normal. In May 2020, the number of deaths gradually returned to pre-pandemic figures, with some local exceptions. In week 31 (27 July–2 August 2020), when numbers started to increase again, the most affected regions were in Belgium, Spain and Romania. In week 33 (10-16 August 2020), deaths in the Belgian regions Kortrijk, Ath and Ieper were more than double than in the same week in 2016-2019, followed by other regions in Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania and Switzerland. In weeks 36-40 (31 August–4 October 2020), parts of Greece, Finland, Spain and France were among the most affected regions.

In 2021, in particular between February and May, the most affected regions were in Czechia (Karlovarský, Plzenský, Královéhradecký and Pardubický), Slovakia (Trnavský, Trenciansky and Banskobystrický), Bulgaria (Kyustendil and Pazardzhik) and Poland (Bielski and Gorzowski) all with more than 45 % of excess deaths.

Source data for tables and graphs

Excel.jpg Weekly death - tables and graphs

Data sources

In April 2020, Eurostat launched a new data collection exercise on weekly deaths and invited all EU and EFTA countries, as well as candidate or neighbouring countries to provide data. Eurostat publishes data on the number of deaths in different European countries by week, age, sex and NUTS 3 regions, but not all breakdowns are available. Data, extracted from Eurostat’s online database, are preliminary and continuously updated with those from more recent weeks. See metadata online


How the aggregate is constructed

Thirty-one countries provide weekly mortality data, for all weeks of the years 2016-2019 as a basis for comparison: Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechia, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Ireland, Greece, Spain, France, Croatia, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Hungary, Malta, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Data received from candidate and neighbouring countries are not present in this article.

Due to missing or incomplete data from some countries, Eurostat estimated the EU aggregate for July 2021 (weeks 26 to 30) based on the latest available info.

Data from Sweden include deaths for which a precise week has not been identified (unknown week). Those data have been redistributed among the existing weeks in proportion to the number of deaths already recorded for each week.

Data from Ireland were not included in the first phase of the weekly deaths data collection: official timely data were not available because deaths can be registered up to three months after the date of death. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Central Statistics Office of Ireland began to explore experimental ways of obtaining up-to-date mortality data, finding a strong correlation between death notices published on RIP.ie and official mortality statistics. Recently, CSO Ireland started publishing a time series covering the period from October 2019 until the most recent weeks, using death notices (see CSO website). For the purpose of this release, Eurostat is comparing the new 2020-2021 web-scraped series with a 2016-2019 baseline built using official data. CSO is periodically assessing the quality of these data.

A data aggregation for all available countries (comparing total deaths in recent weeks with the 2016-2019 baseline of the respective week) has been made for this article in order to help with the analysis. The aggregate is not included in Eurostat's online database.


Context

In addition to its major impact on people’s lives, on economies and on healthcare systems, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered tremendous interest in related statistics. Therefore, in April 2020, in cooperation with the National Statistical Institutes of the European Statistical System, Eurostat set up a new special European data collection exercise on weekly deaths, in order to support COVID-19 policy and research efforts.

National Statistical Institutes regularly submit data on weekly deaths to Eurostat, on a voluntary basis, up to the latest available week. These data are cross-classified by sex, 5-year age group and NUTS 3 region. Data going back as far as 2000 are submitted in order to enable seasonal comparisons. If such detailed cross-classification or back data are not possible, participating countries may submit less detailed data or data for shorter time periods to Eurostat. Considering the urgent need for statistical information to monitor mortality, timeliness is the main goal of this data collection exercise.


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