Learning from the pandemic: mortality trends and seasonality of deaths in Australia in 2020.

Oxford University Press
Publication Type:
Journal Article
International Journal of Epidemiology, 2022, 51, (3), pp. 718-726
Issue Date:
Full metadata record
AIM: To assess whether the observed numbers and seasonality of deaths in Australia during 2020 differed from expected trends based on 2015-19 data. METHODS: We used provisional death data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, stratified by state, age, sex and cause of death. We compared 2020 deaths with 2015-19 deaths using interrupted time series adjusted for time trend and seasonality. We measured the following outcomes along with 95% confidence intervals: observed/expected deaths (rate ratio: RR), change in seasonal variation in mortality (amplitude ratio: AR) and change in week of peak seasonal mortality (phase difference: PD). RESULTS: Overall 4% fewer deaths from all causes were registered in Australia than expected in 2020 [RR 0·96 (0·95-0·98)] with reductions across states, ages and sex strata. There were fewer deaths from respiratory illness [RR 0·79 (0·76-0·83)] and dementia [RR 0·95 (0·93-0·98)] but more from diabetes [RR 1·08 (1·04-1·13)]. Seasonal variation was reduced for deaths overall [AR 0·94 (0·92-0·95)], and for deaths due to respiratory illnesses [AR 0·78 (0·74-0·83)], dementia [AR 0.92 (0.89-0.95)] and ischaemic heart disease [0.95 (0.90-0.97)]. CONCLUSIONS: The observed reductions in respiratory and dementia deaths and the reduced seasonality in ischaemic heart disease deaths may reflect reductions in circulating respiratory (non-SARS-CoV-2) pathogens resulting from the public health measures taken in 2020. The observed increase in diabetes deaths is unexplained and merits further study.
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