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Number of deaths in Sweden during the pandemic – compared to previous years’ mortality

This blog has previously reported that Statistics Sweden has been working to quickly obtain new data on the number of deaths in Sweden. It is now released every Monday.

(This story was first published in Swedish. Translated by Erik Jonsson)

So far there are 7,067 confirmed deaths with Covid-19 according to the Swedish Public Health Agency. The highest number for a single week is for the week of April 8-15, when an average of 115 people died per day. There is, however, a lag in the reporting of deaths, and there are still 20 fatalities, the date of which is set as “no data” by the Swedish Public Health Agency.

Each year, around 90,000 Swedes die in total, approximately 250 people a day. In 2019, unusually few Swedes passed away, a total of 89,000. Not since 1977 have so few people died in Sweden, according to Statistics Sweden. The previous year, 2018, 92,000 people died and there was an unusually high number of deaths from the flu.

The annual death rate also depends on how many people are born each year. In Sweden, relatively few people were born in the 1920s and 30s, with a higher birth rate in the 40s. We also live longer today than we did a few years ago, and the population in Sweden has seen a significant rise during the 2000s. There are, in other words, many reasons why comparisons over a number of years are difficult.

Statistics Sweden has chosen the last five years and created an average of how many people have died per year. The data can then be compared with 2020 and with that measure an excess mortality can be established.

During the 15th week of the year, we saw the highest death rate in Sweden this millennium. A total number of 2,505 people, 358 a day, passed away. Not since the first week of the year 2000 had that many people died in Sweden. Weeks 14 and 16 of 2020 rank third and fourth respectively on that same list. The month of April was the deadliest in Sweden since the 1990s with 10,458 deaths. You have to go back to December 1993, when 11,057 people died, to find a higher figure. At that time, the flu was unusually severe. Beyond that, you’d have to look back to 1918 and the Spanish flu to find a more deadly month.

Of course, the numbers should also be measured in relation to how big the population is. With that in mind, there are several months that have seen a higher death rate. The most recent month was December 2000, when 110.8 Swedes died per 100,000 people, compared to 101.1 in April this year. There are, however, several reasons to be cautious with comparisons back in time. You can find a more thorough rundown of historical statistics here.

This is what the preliminary data for the weekly death rate in Sweden looks like, compared to the average (the last two weeks is still to be adjusted)

From having a high excess mortality during the pandemic, the death rate sunk in May to finally reach more typical levels during the summer. In the second half of June, we even saw a mortality below normal for the first time since the pandemic began, something that is expected after a period of high mortality in older age groups. When Statistics Sweden summarized the third quarter, the average mortality rate was 1.9 percent lower than for the corresponding periods between 2015 and 2019.

But in November, we again saw excess mortality in Sweden, and it’s on the increase. Still, the higher numbers are still within normal variations, which becomes clear if you examine statistics per day, adding all previous five years into the comparison:

Certain regions have been hit especially hard. In Stockholm, the number of deaths has been significantly higher than average, but dropped to more normal levels during summer.

Come November, Stockholm again showed excess mortality. The graph below measures the number of reported deaths (preliminary figures, the last two weeks will be adjusted).

Other counties, such as Västra Götaland, have displayed a different curve, but also here excess mortality was followed by normal levels. The autumn has so far not given a clear indication of excess mortality (the last two weeks will be adjusted slightly).

All this means that we have excess mortality, which during the summer seemed to be compensated by lower mortality, but during the second wave instead increased (the last two weeks will be adjusted upwards).

Total mortality is thus less than the number who have died so far this year. The statistician Åke Nilsson has previously explained how, for example, ten thousand deaths with Covid-19 will not necessarily mean that ten thousand more will die in Sweden this year, than expected.

The reason more people haven’t died in total, despite this deadly disease, is complicated. One could potentially see it as those who otherwise would have died of the flu, now died with Covid. The Public Health Agency’s advice about washing your hands also seemed to have had the desired effect as the annual norovirus – which can sometimes lead to deadly infections – disappeared seven weeks earlier than normal this year.

The fact that the norovirus disappeared as soon as March could have affected the death rate, but it could also mean that the same people have instead been infected by Covid-19. There is of course also a risk that those who had a stomach bug failed to seek treatment, but looking at the number of Google searches is a common way to measure how widespread the flu has been. We see searches declining this year in comparable ways.

However, it is also likely that the number of deaths on the roads, as well as from stress-related illnesses is lower this year.

Something that is not yet clear in any of the comparisons above is how the healthcare system has adjusted and in some regions reached a critical state. If that had not happened, the mortality rate had probably been higher. That is also why it is important to flatten the curve, that is to say keep the number of seriously ill people down, so that our healthcare system can cope.

Finally, one aspect is clear in the statistics: foreign born citizens have been much more affected relative to native Swedes – and still are.

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Här ansvarar den som skriver kommentarer för sitt eget innehåll
  • Ma augusti 12, 2020, 20:38

    Why is there no info about the second half of the year before 2020? What does the normal chart look like?

  • abrogard september 9, 2020, 04:52

    would someone please tell the australian government about these facts? particularly the victorian govt. they have the population cowed in fear of an unquantified peril and devoted to extreme quarantine measures wholescale – and they’re kiliing the country on the one hand and amassing a a great many collateral injuries, sicknesses and deaths on the other.

    Australia has only 25 million population. sweden is a good model for Australia. If Australia had eyes to see, ears to hear.

    • Will januari 6, 2021, 16:59

      I’m with you. I’m not in Australia, but I’m with you. We’re not alone, just a minority. Keep up!

  • Reza Behnood januari 25, 2021, 15:03

    I’m not sure how comparing the 2020 stats to the average of previous 5 years is a good indicator (population growth?). Not having the breakdown of ageing population to account for the demographic change (i.e. 2020 age breakdown and as such risk level are not the same as 2015) and just going by the averages (purely based on data available from SCB.SE, 2020’s death per 100k inhabitant is 3.2 points higher than indexed average of 2015-2019. With 2020 population at 10380245, that is ~329 (indexed to population) more death than average of previous 5 years (again not counting for demographic and hence risk profile change). The other thing that needs to be counted for is to compare the 2020 figure with projected death for future years (i.e. number of deaths that would’ve been projected for future years which incurred in 2020). All in all, unless I’m reading the numbers wrong (which is always a possibility), the collateral and hidden impact of covid related measures seems to come on top more significantly than the increase in the number of death in a specific year (2020).

  • Dolf mars 21, 2021, 15:16

    Maybe use the official statistics from the EU ? https://covid19-country-overviews.ecdc.europa.eu/#33_Sweden

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