CMI says rise in death rates during 2020-21 is the worst since World War II

During the coronavirus pandemic, the Continuous Mortality Investigation (CMI) is publishing frequent UK mortality analysis through its mortality monitor. Today’s updates cover week 52 of 2021 (25 to 31 December) and the fourth quarter of 2021, based on provisional England & Wales deaths data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on 11 January 2022.

The key points of these updates are:

  • Mortality for 2021 as a whole has been 6.9% higher than 2019, but 5.7% lower than in 2020.
  • There is a striking difference in how mortality rates compare to 2020 at different ages – while mortality for ages 65+ has been 7.1% lower than in 2020, mortality for under-65s is around 3.1% higher than in 2020.
  • There have been around 120,400 more deaths from all causes than expected in the UK from the start of the pandemic to 31 December 2021. Of these, 72,900 occurred in 2020 and 47,500 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, 10,900 more than expected in the third quarter, and 12,200 more than expected in the fourth quarter.
  • Mortality in each week of the second half of 2021 has been higher than in the corresponding week of 2019.

The CMI has carried out further analysis to put figures for 2020 and 2021 into historical context:

  • While mortality can be volatile from year to year, we tend to see falls in mortality over time and it is rare to see mortality in a year being higher than the preceding five-year average. That happened in 2020 and 2021, but only twice in the preceding fifty years.
  • Taken together, mortality for the two year period 2020-21 is 5.5% above the 2015-19 average. It is unusual to see two consecutive years so far above the preceding five-year average – we have to go back to 1940-41 to find a period as unusual as 2020-2021 on this measure.

Deaths registered in week 52 are affected by public holidays, when register offices are typically closed and some registrations will be delayed. Figures for this week are not directly comparable to other weeks:

  • The number of deaths registered in England & Wales in week 52 of 2021 was 731 higher than if mortality rates had been the same as in week 52 of 2019; equivalent to 9% more deaths than expected.
  • The number of deaths registered in England & Wales with COVID-19 mentioned on the death certificate was 582 in week 52 of 2021.

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

“Although weekly excess mortality in the second half of 2021 hasn’t been nearly as high as the peaks of earlier waves, it has been persistent. This has led to nearly as many excess deaths in the second half of 2021 as in the first half.

Taken together, 2020-2021 has been a remarkable two-year period, with a greater increase in mortality than we have seen since World War II.”

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 CMI publishes three types of mortality monitor:

  • A weekly “summary” pandemic monitor, without a press release. The next is planned for week 1 of 2022 on Tuesday 18 January 2021.
  • A more detailed pandemic monitor, with a press release, every four or five weeks. The next is planned for week 4 of 2022 on Tuesday 8 February 2022.
  • A quarterly monitor, in a format that pre-dates the pandemic. The next is planned for week 13 of 2022 on Tuesday 12 April 2022.

Our historical analysis uses data from the Human Mortality Database (HMD) up to 1960, and ONS data from 1961 onwards.