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Provisional death counts and excess mortality, January 2020 to November 2022

Released: 2023-02-09

To understand the direct and indirect consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to measure excess mortality, which occurs when there are more deaths than expected in a given period.

Provisional data show there were an estimated 58,331 excess deaths in Canada from the end of March 2020 to the beginning of October 2022, 7.9% more deaths than expected had there not been a pandemic. During this period, at least 43,635 deaths were directly attributed to COVID-19.

Nationally, there were significantly more deaths than expected from the beginning of January 2022 to the end of February 2022. During this period of excess mortality, specifically in the third week of January 2022, the highest number of deaths and the highest weekly rate of excess mortality since the start of the pandemic were recorded: over 1 in 5 deaths during this week in January would not have been expected had there been no pandemic. In the spring, excess deaths were observed from the middle of April 2022 to the middle of June 2022. While the first period of excess mortality in 2022 was driven by excess mortality in Quebec and Ontario, the most recent period of excess mortality was driven by excess mortality in the three westernmost provinces. In fact, Alberta and British Columbia had higher than expected weekly deaths through much of 2022.

It should be noted that, even without a pandemic, there is always some year-to-year variation in the number of deaths in a given week. As such, the number of expected deaths should fall within a certain range of values. There is evidence of excess mortality when weekly deaths are consistently higher than the expected number, but especially when they exceed the range of what is expected over several consecutive weeks.

In its commitment to keep Canadians informed of the effects of the pandemic, today's release includes a new and updated provisional dataset from the Canadian Vital Statistics - Death Database, covering the period from January 1, 2020, to December 3, 2022. These data are updated with the most recent information available monthly.

  Note to readers

The data released today are provisional, as they are not based on all the deaths that occurred during the reference period because of reporting delays and because they do not include those of Yukon. Provisional death counts are based on what is reported to Statistics Canada by provincial and territorial vital statistics registries. Provisional death estimates have been adjusted to account for incomplete data where possible. The numbers of excess deaths discussed in this analysis refer to provisional estimates. Information on the methods used can be found in the "Definitions, data sources and methods" section of the Canadian Vital Statistics Death Database.

The provisional death counts and estimates released today may not match figures from other sources, such as media reports, or counts and estimates from provincial and territorial health authorities and other agencies.

There are several ways to measure excess mortality, and each has its strengths and weaknesses. There are also several challenges that come with measuring excess mortality, most importantly properly estimating the number of expected deaths that would occur in a non-COVID-19 context as a basis for comparison with current death counts. Significant variations may be observed from year to year in the annual death counts, especially in the least-populated provinces and the territories. Moreover, yearly death counts may be affected by changes in the composition of the population, particularly regarding age and changes in mortality rates (e.g., reduced mortality). In the Canadian context, with an aging and growing population, the number of deaths has been increasing steadily in recent years, so a higher number of deaths in 2021 and 2022 would be expected, regardless of COVID-19.

A second challenge is the difficulty of collecting timely death counts. Taking these considerations into account, the method chosen by Statistics Canada to estimate expected deaths—which has also been adopted by organizations in several other countries, including the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—is adapted from an infectious disease detection algorithm that has been largely used in the context of mortality surveillance in recent years.

More information on excess mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada is available in the article "Excess mortality in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic."

Starting in September 2022, Quebec implemented electronic death registration, leading to timelier reporting of deaths in the province. While Statistics Canada has been adjusting the number of weekly deaths for reporting delays, the magnitude of these adjustments may no longer be applicable in Quebec.

References to the period from the end of March 2020 to the beginning of October 2022 refer to the period from the week ending March 28, 2020, to the week ending October 8, 2022.

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The Life expectancy and deaths statistics portal, presenting information related to death in Canada, was updated today. It features the Provisional deaths and excess mortality in Canada dashboard, which brings recent insights into the trends in excess mortality together with interactive data visualization tools.

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; infostats@statcan.gc.ca) or Media Relations (statcan.mediahotline-ligneinfomedias.statcan@statcan.gc.ca).

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