A recent study by the Actuaries Institute found that almost 20,000 more Australians died in 2022 than expected, which is the highest excess mortality figure since World War II.
The institute attributed the increase in deaths to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, some critics questioned whether the deaths were caused by measures introduced to fight the pandemic, such as lockdowns that prevented Australians from seeking medical care for diseases.
The institute’s analysis found that Covid-19 was directly responsible for just over half of the excess deaths (around 10,300), and it was a contributing factor in a further 2,900 deaths.
For the remaining 6,600 excess deaths, the virus was not mentioned on the death certificates. Deaths from Covid-19 peaked in the last week of July but trended downwards until the end of October before rising again throughout November and December.
Karen Cutter, spokeswoman for the Institute’s Covid-19 Mortality Working Group, stated that the pandemic still played a role in many of these deaths for three reasons. Firstly, mortality risk is higher after an acute Covid-19 infection.
Secondly, people did not access medical care when needed due to inability or fear/lack of opportunity. Lastly, some of these deaths could be undiagnosed Covid-19 deaths.
The analysis found that the impact of pandemic-influenced lifestyle changes on these excess deaths was low, while the impact of vaccine-related deaths was negligible.
Ms Cutter said that older age groups had a higher percentage of excess deaths than younger age groups, and in those younger age groups, females had a higher excess death rate than males. Respiratory, all causes of excess deaths were significantly higher than predicted, and ischaemic heart disease, diabetes and ‘other’ were particularly high.
Actuaries Institute Chief Executive, Elayne Grace, stated that the figures were a stark reminder of the tremendous impact Covid-19 has had across Australia.
Although people have largely moved on from the lockdowns and border closures, the fact remains that Covid-19 remains a key contributor to the majority of excess mortality.
Not everyone agreed with the Institute’s findings on total excess mortality. Adam Creighton, Washington Correspondent for The Australian, criticized the idea that public health interventions implemented to stop the disease bear no responsibility for the rise in excess deaths. Mr Creighton was a persistent critic of lockdowns and the Australian Government’s response to Covid-19.