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Provisional data on causes of death, January to April 2019 and January to April 2020

Released: 2020-07-03

As part of Statistics Canada's commitment to provide timely and relevant information on COVID-19 and its impact on Canadians, a new provisional dataset from the Canadian Vital Statistics Death Database on the causes of death in Canada, including COVID-19, is now available. This dataset provides information on the first four months of 2020, ending April 30, for 11 of the provinces and territories. The data released today are provisional as they do not include all deaths that occurred during the reference period, and do not include Ontario and Yukon.

The Canadian Vital Statistics Death Database is the official source for cause of death information in Canada and draws its information from the medical certificate of cause of death, which contains the certified causes of death as per the medical professional last in attendance, or a coroner or medical examiner.

Typically, cancer and heart diseases account for almost half of all deaths in Canada

In 2018, official vital statistics figures indicated that cancer and heart diseases were the first and second leading causes of death in Canada, accounting for 46.8% of all deaths. The third through tenth leading causes were, respectively: stroke, accidents, chronic lower respiratory disease, influenza and pneumonia, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, suicide and kidney diseases such as nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis.

COVID-19 was a leading cause of death in the first four months of 2020

According to publically available figures from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), from January 1 to April 30, 2020, 3,184 persons died from COVID-19 in Canada. When compared to the leading causes of death for the first four months of 2018, COVID-19 was responsible for more deaths than diabetes (2,465 deaths), Alzheimer's disease (2,505), suicide (1,310) or kidney diseases (1,295).

During the month of April 2020, the number of COVID-19 deaths (3,088) was higher than the number of deaths in the same month in 2018 for all categories except cancer (6,565) and heart diseases (4,525).

According to the PHAC, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia accounted for the majority of deaths attributable to COVID-19. The provisional vital statistics data released today provide detailed information on causes of death for Quebec and British Columbia.

COVID-19 was responsible for more deaths in Quebec in April than any other cause, including cancer and heart diseases

According to the Canadian Vital Statistics data, 2,375 deaths due to COVID-19 were reported in Quebec for the month of April 2020. This puts COVID-19 ahead of cancer (1,440) and heart diseases (800) combined when examining the provisional death counts in that month.

COVID-19 killed more British Columbians in April than influenza and pneumonia, and kidney diseases

According to the Canadian Vital Statistics data, there were 95 COVID-19 deaths reported in British Columbia for April 2020. While this represents less than several of the leading causes of death over the same period, including cancer (845) and heart diseases (495), it accounts for more deaths than influenza and pneumonia (70) and kidney diseases (40).

Statistics Canada will continue to provide timely information on a regular basis on deaths attributable to COVID-19, as that information becomes available throughout the pandemic.

  Note to readers

The provisional death counts released today for the first four months of 2020 may not match counts from other sources, such as media reports, or counts and estimates from provincial or territorial health authorities and other agencies. Cause of death information will be updated as it becomes available.

This release also provides provisional causes of death data for 2019. Both 2019 and 2020 data are incomplete, and missing and incomplete categories have been provided as an indicator of data quality.

Data for 2019 and the first four months of 2020 are being released for the Northwest Territories and the following eight provinces: Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. The data also include those deaths occurring in Nunavut up to March 31, 2020, and in New Brunswick up to December 31, 2019.

The list of causes is based on a list that is used by the National Center for Health Statistics in the United States and has been used with little modification since 2000 to summarize the leading causes of death in Canada. Statistics Canada is examining how best to modify this approach to incorporate new causes of death, such as COVID-19, while considering what is done in other countries to facilitate international comparison.

The number of deaths in Canada related to COVID-19 as of April 30 comes from the Public Health Agency of Canada's COVID-19 Outbreak Update (consulted June 12). For the most recent information, please refer to the Public Health Agency of Canada's website.

Contact information

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; STATCAN.infostats-infostats.STATCAN@canada.ca) or Media Relations (613-951-4636; STATCAN.mediahotline-ligneinfomedias.STATCAN@canada.ca).

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