Excess deaths were back this week, according to the ONS, with 855 (7.6%) registered above the five-year average in the week ending March 3rd. Of these, 349 were due to COVID-19 as underlying cause, leaving 506 from other underlying causes.
Excess deaths have been close to zero for the past five weeks, according to the ONS, suggesting to some that the trend of many more people than usual dying had come to an end. However, a closer look reveals this to be a mirage created by the ONS changing its baseline to include the large Alpha wave that occurred in early 2021. (To be fair to the ONS, it does note this change in the chart above.)
Below I have recreated the above graph but used the 2015-19 pre-pandemic baseline throughout. This could be criticised for not allowing for an ageing population. However, the last three years have been heavily affected by excess mortality due to the pandemic and the responses to it, which will have a much larger impact on the figures than a slight ageing effect, so the use of the consistent pre-pandemic baseline is warranted. Note that the Covid deaths (orange) include those with Covid as a secondary cause. In the Omicron era (i.e., since the start of 2022), 30-40% of these ‘Covid’ deaths are registered with a different underlying cause.
The difference in the last two winters when using this pre-pandemic baseline is stark. In the winter just gone, rather than near-zero excess for several weeks, there were high levels of excess throughout.
Here is what excess mortality (as a percentage) looks like using the 2015-19 baseline.
Comparing the totals, since week 16 of 2022 (i.e., April 18th), when the latest excess deaths surge began (the surge really started during 2021, but was masked during the winter due to the mildness of Omicron and the absence of flu), according to the ONS there have been 49,736 excess deaths, whereas using the pre-pandemic baseline there have been 62,543 excess deaths, 25.7% more. During 2023 to date the difference is 6,876 using ONS baseline versus 13,244 using pre-pandemic baseline, nearly twice as many (92.6% more).
What lies behind this very worrying trend has still not been properly investigated, and the Government recently confirmed that it has no plans to do so.
Without wanting to take away from the important lessons here for lockdown, it is important to note that Sweden has been experiencing considerable excess deaths recently and is not exempt from whatever is causing this global phenomenon (whether vaccines, virus, missed treatment or whatever it is). In particular, over the current winter it hit 31.5% excess mortality in December (according to Our World in Data), higher than the U.K.
Whatever is causing the worldwide excess deaths since mid-2021, it is happening in Sweden no less than elsewhere.