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CMI notes sustained excess mortality during third quarter of 2021

During the coronavirus pandemic, the Continuous Mortality Investigation (CMI) is publishing frequent UK mortality analysis through its mortality monitor. Today’s updates cover week 39 of 2021 (25 September to 1 October) and the third quarter of 2021, based on provisional England & Wales deaths data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on 12 October 2021.

The key points of these updates are:

  • The number of deaths registered in England & Wales in week 39 of 2021 was 700 higher than if mortality rates had been the same as in week 39 of 2019; equivalent to 7% more deaths than expected.
  • There is a striking difference in how mortality rates compare to 2020 at different ages – while mortality at older ages is significantly lower in 2021 so far, mortality for under-65s is around 3% higher.
  • There have been around 108,100 more deaths from all causes than expected in the UK from the start of the pandemic to 1 October 2021. Of these, 35,200 have occurred in 2021.
  • The numbers of excess deaths in 2021 have varied significantly by quarter, with 34,300 more than expected in the first quarter, 9,900 fewer than expected in the second quarter, and 10,900 more than expected in the third quarter.
  • There has been a significant increase in the number of UK deaths with COVID-19 mentioned on the death certificate over the quarter, with 1,045 in week 39 of 2021, compared to 181 in week 26, at the end of the second quarter.

Cobus Daneel, Chair of the CMI Mortality Projections Committee, said:

“Mortality rates in the second quarter of 2021 were at a record low for the time of year. But every week of the third quarter has had mortality rates above pre-pandemic 2019 levels. Despite that, and significant case numbers, total excess deaths during the third wave are currently much lower than during the first two waves.

Remarkably, while overall mortality rates are lower in 2021 than in 2020, that is not the case for the under-65s, who have seen mortality increase still further this year.”

All mortality monitor weekly updates are publicly available on the mortality monitor page.

We define “excess” deaths as the difference between actual deaths in a week, and those that we would have expected if mortality rates had been the same as in the corresponding week of 2019. We use 2019 as the most recent “normal” year of mortality observed, as mortality in the first 12 weeks of 2019 and 2020 were similar.

The total excess deaths figures shown above since the start of the pandemic (108,100) and the start of 2021 (35,200) have fallen from peaks of 111,200 and 38,200 respectively, at week 9 of 2021. This is due to there being fewer deaths than expected in some subsequent weeks.

For the purposes of the mortality monitor, the CMI treats the pandemic as being deaths registered from week 10 of 2020 onwards (i.e. from 29 February 2020), and the third wave as being deaths registered from week 27 of 2021 onwards (i.e. from 3 July 2021).

Figures quoted for excess deaths in the first three quarters of 2021 (34,300, -9,900 and 10,900) do not add to the total (35,200) due to rounding.

The CMI publishes three types of mortality monitor:
•    A weekly “summary” pandemic monitor, without a press release. The next is planned for week 40 of 2021 on Tuesday 19 October 2021.
•    A more detailed pandemic monitor, with a press release, every four or five weeks. The next is planned for week 44 of 2021 on Tuesday 16 November 2021. 
•    A quarterly monitor, in a format that pre-dates the pandemic. The next is planned for week 52 of 2021 on Tuesday 11 January 2022.

On 12 October 2021, we updated our population estimate for the second half of 2021. This results in a slight decrease in expected deaths for weeks 27 to 38 of 2021 and a corresponding increase in excess deaths for those weeks – from 5% of expected to 7% of expected over that period. This does not affect other results, including cumulative SMRs and cumulative mortality improvements, or results for earlier weeks.