Around 1.6 million additional deaths between January 2020 and September 2022
Eurostat's 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.This article focuses on the number of deaths in the EU and EFTA from January 2020 until September 2022.
In March 2020, the number of deaths compared with previous years was exceptionally high in some parts of Europe (Italy and Spain in particular) while other areas were less severely affected. In April 2020, this high increase affected an increasing number of areas. At the peak of the first wave of COVID-19 (in the two months, from mid-March to mid-May 2020, i.e. from weeks 11 to 21), there were 179000 additional deaths compared with the average for 2016-2019.
During the second larger wave of excess deaths (from October to the end of December 2020, weeks 41 to 53), there were 348000 additional deaths. In the first wave, 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 2020, in the 27 EU and 4 EFTA countries, there were 550000 more deaths than the annual average for the years 2016-2019, and the excess mortality rate reached its highest level in early April (141% compared with the baseline).
In February 2021, the second wave started 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 new slight increase in the European average number of deaths, with the aforementioned countries still above the average level, while others (Portugal, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland) 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, closer but still a few percentage points above the baseline level recorded in 2016-2019.In the last quarter of 2021 (October-December 2021, weeks 40-52) there was a significant rise, with the total death rate for the EU and EFTA reaching 132% of the baseline in early December, which was the highest level of the whole year. There were 279000 excess deaths during this third wave from late-2021. When looking at national rates recorded during this period, the range of values continued to vary considerably - as it can be seen in Table 1 below - with the lowest in Iceland (68%), the lowest ceiling for Italy (all values below 115%), Spain (all values below 114%), and Sweden (all values below 111%), and the highest in Romania (230%); other countries with high rates were Bulgaria (202%) and Slovakia (193%).
In December 2021, after reaching the highest value for the year, the number of deaths fell to 117%. In the first quarter of 2022 (January-March, weeks 1-13), the overall rate continued to fall: the period average was around 108%, with a minimum of 102% in early March, and a maximum of 112% in early February.
In the second quarter of 2022 (April-June, weeks 14-26), the death rate in the EU was slightly higher than in the previous quarter, at around 109% of the average number for the same period in 2016-2019. The highest value was 112% in early April, and the lowest was 103% in late May.
In July 2022, the death rate in the EU increased compared with the previous month, to 117% of the average number for the same period in 2016-2019 (it was 108% in June). There were around 60000 additional deaths in July 2022. This is an unusually high value for this month: the death rate was 103% in July 2020 (10000 additional deaths) and 106% in July 2021 (21000 additional deaths). Based on the available information, some of the mortality increase in July 2022 compared with the same month of the past two years may be due to the heatwaves that have affected parts of Europe during the reference period.
In September 2022, the death rate in the EU decreased compared with the previous month, to 108.7% of the average number for the same period in 2016-2019 (it was 113% in August). There were around 30000 additional deaths in September 2022. In comparison, the death rate was 108% in September 2020 (28000 additional deaths) and 113% in September 2021 (44000 additional deaths).
Between January 2020 and September 2022, around 1550000 additional deaths were recorded in the EU and EFTA, compared with the average number recorded in 2016-2019.
Figure 1: Weekly deaths in the EU and EFTA countries, 2020-2022 and baseline (average 2016-2019)
Source: Eurostat (demo_r_mwk_ts)
Figure 2 shows that each year has a specific mortality pattern. Aggregated data for 2018, for example, show the effects 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). It is worth highlighting that, after July 2020 (week 31), weekly death levels were almost constantly above those of 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Figure 2: Weekly deaths, EU and EFTA countries, 2016-2022
Source: Eurostat (demo_r_mwk_ts)
Number of deaths much higher in 2020-2022 than in previous years
When comparing the period January 2020 - September 2022 with the annual average of total deaths for 2016-2019 in the countries analysed, a series of distinct waves of mortality can be observed.
The first, in 2020, 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 started in late summer but became more pronounced after week 41 (11-17 October 2020).The cumulated impact of the first two waves in the EU and EFTA countries was around 550000 additional deaths by the end of 2020.
The number of deaths reached a new high in late April 2021, climbing to 121% of the total mortality compared with the baseline period 2016-2019. Between April and July 2021, the number of deaths declined in the EU and EFTA, and the death rate gradually decreased to 104% compared with the baseline in early July. The latest increase in total death rates started in September 2021 and continued until the end of the year. In total, there were around 660000 additional deaths in the EU and EFTA countries in 2021.
In the first nine months of 2022, the total number of deaths was 110% of the average for the corresponding period in the reference pre-pandemic years (2016-2019). So far in 2022 there were around 340000 additional deaths in the 31 EU and EFTA countries, of which around 100000 in the first quarter of 2022 (January-March), 101000 in the second quarter (April-June), and 139000 in the third quarter (July-September).
Wide disparities between countries
European countries were not affected in the same way or at the same time by the different excess deaths waves. Table 1, below, highlights the weekly death rates in 2021 and 2022, where the rate 100 would indicate the equivalence between total deaths in the current week and in the corresponding week of the baseline period 2016-2019 (the complete table, including 2020, is available in the attached file).
It is worth noting that week 53/2020 (28 December 2020 to 3 January 2021) has been compared with 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% in week 13 (23-29 March 2020). However, the sharpest increase in the number of deaths was in Spain: 260% 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, and more pronouncedly in the autumn (after week 38-39), the excess deaths started to rise again in most countries with different patterns, reaching an overall peak in November 2020 (week 46, 141%). Countries in the central and eastern parts of Europe experienced even higher rates of mortality during the autumn months of 2020.
Table 1: Weekly deaths in EU and EFTA countries, compared with a baseline (2016-2019 average = 100)
Source: Eurostat (demo_r_mwk_ts)
In 2020, 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 Liechtenstein for which the peak was in May (week 18). Based on the available data, in November 2021 most countries were close to the 2016-2019 baseline or slightly above, except Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, for which higher peaks ranging between 140% and 210% were observed.In the first half of 2022, the overall death rate for EU and EFTA countries together was around 108%, ranging between 102% in early March and 112% in early April. Nevertheless, there were several countries that still had death rates higher than 150% of the 2016-2019 baseline: Bulgaria (weeks 6-7) and Iceland (weeks 8-10).
In July 2022, several countries recorded unusually high numbers of excess deaths compared with the same month of 2020 and 2021, a situation probably connected not only to COVID-19 but also to the heatwaves that have affected parts of Europe during the reference period. Notable cases are Spain (11900 additional deaths in July 2022, compared with 2500 in July 2021 and 2100 in July 2020, versus an average of 33000 deaths for the months of July between 2016-2019), Italy (additional deaths: 14200 in July 2022, 3600 in July 2021, 1500 in July 2020; average number of deaths in July 2016-2019: 50000 ), Germany (11700 additional deaths in July 2022 and 2600 in July 2021, 300 deaths below the baseline in July 2020; average number of deaths in July 2016-2019: 74000), France (7100 additional deaths in July 2022 and 1300 in July 2021, 300 deaths below the baseline in July 2020; average number of deaths in July 2016-2019: 47000). In August 2022, only Germany recorded an unusually high number of excess deaths compared with the same month of 2020 and 2021: 12100 additional deaths in August 2022, compared with 3200 in August 2021 and 5300 in August 2020, versus an average of 73000 deaths for the months of August between 2016-2019.
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- 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.In the first part of 2022, half of the additional deaths occurred in just three countries (Germany, Italy and France).
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).
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.During the late-2021 wave (weeks 39-53) the average mortality rate in the EU and EFTA for this period was 123%, reaching a maximum of 132% of the average for the same period in 2016-2019. Among the countries with complete data, the highest mortality rates were recorded in Bulgaria (period average 167% and period max 202%), Romania (period average 161% and period max 230%), and Slovakia (period average 153% and period max 193%). Within those countries, the impact was rather uneven. The most affected region in Bulgaria was Blagoevgrad (period average 189% and period max 254%); in Romania these were Harghita (period average 184% and period max 317%) and Mehedinţi (period average 181% and period max 319%); in Slovakia this was Prešovský (period average 179% and period max 227%).
In July 2022 (weeks 26-30) the average mortality rate in the EU and EFTA for this period was 116%, reaching a maximum of 124% of the average for the same period in 2016-2019. The country that has recorded the highest mortality rates was Spain (period average 134% and period max 150%); its most affected regions were Guadalajara (period average 163% and period max 199%), Fuerteventura (period average 163% and period max 250%), Menorca (period average 162% and period max 220%), Eivissa y Formentera (period average 153% and period max 277%), and La Gomera (period average 146% and period max 267%).
In September 2022 (weeks 36-39) the average mortality rate in the EU and EFTA for this period was 109%, reaching a maximum of 110% of the average for the same period in 2016-2019. Among the countries with complete data, the highest mortality rate was recorded in Finland (period average 118% and period max 125%); its most affected regions were Kainuu (period average 154% and period max 193%) and Åland (period average 153% and period max 218%).
Source data for tables and graphs
Weekly deaths - tables and graphs
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 has estimated the European aggregate (EU + EFTA) for September 2022 (weeks 36 to 39) 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.
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.