Covid-19 – excess mortality – how deadly is the coronavirus really?


How many people are dying because the coronavirus is floating around? Statistics on so-called excess mortality aim to answer this question. But there are some imponderables.

What is excess mortality?

Excess mortality indicates how many more people have died compared to the average for previous years. To do this, one considers certain periods of time – like selected months in previous years. It is therefore about an increased death rate.

 The  Robert Koch Institute takes excess mortality into account, for example, in the annual flu deaths in Germany. During the 2017/2018 flu wave, the number was given as around 25,000. That’s an estimate. During the period of this flu epidemic, more people died than had previously been expected, regardless of the cause of death. This excess of dead is excess mortality.

What are the uncertainties about excess mortality?

© The  excess mortality figures are fraught with uncertainty. However, it is clear that the excess mortality would probably be significantly higher without the corona measures. So excess mortality alone says nothing about how deadly the coronavirus is.


 The  comparison with the average of the number of deaths from previous years is at least slightly limping, as the deaths change due to various factors: for example, due to the longer life expectancy on the one hand, and population development on the other – because there are more and more older people in Germany. It is also unclear what negative effects, for example, the contact restrictions and anti-corona measures have on the death rate. For example, some experts have expressed concern that suicide rates could rise if the mentally ill were poorly cared for. ©

 The  past few months have also shown that some people with serious illnesses do not go to the doctor or go too late to avoid infection with the coronavirus in the waiting room, for example. In addition, operations that were not necessary were postponed at times of high infection rates in Germany. Doctors have warned many times that this will also lead to more deaths.

What are the findings on excess mortality in recent months?


 The  Federal Statistical Office has been publishing specific data on excess mortality for some time, which is updated regularly. Preliminary data for 2020 are now available. While the Robert Koch Institute registered 39,201 deaths in connection with Covid-19, the Federal Statistical Office recorded a general excess mortality of around 48,000 people. As the Spiegel writes, some cases of this excess mortality can also be traced back to the intense heat in summer. In addition, depending on the factors that are included in the calculation (such as life expectancy, demographics), other values ​​would result. Precise statements remain difficult.

In the data from the Federal Statistical Office, at least in the first three months of last year, there was no noticeable increase in the number of deaths. ©

 The  flu epidemic was more moderate in 2020 compared to previous years. In April 2020, however, in line with the first wave, the numbers were well above the average of previous years, with an increase of ten percent. In the months that followed, the number of deaths was again roughly average.

Death numbers in December are above average

However, the authorities have recently seen an increase again, since around October. According to the Federal Statistical Office, the number of deaths in Germany in the week from 7 to 13 December 2020 was significantly higher than the average of previous years. According to preliminary results, at least 22,897 people died in the 50th calendar week, which is 23 percent or 4,289 more than the average for the years 2016 to 2019, according to the Federal Office in Wiesbaden. ©

 The  development in Saxony, which is particularly badly affected by the pandemic, was particularly noticeable. In the 50th calendar week, the number there was 88 percent or 970 cases above the average of previous years. An increase of 34 percent (211 cases) was reported from Brandenburg and 35 percent (204 cases) from Thuringia.

A study by the Munich-based Ifo Institute comes to the conclusion that the age groups of 60 to 79 year olds and those over 80 are particularly affected by an increase in mortality in the corona pandemic. ©

 The  mortality of younger people, on the other hand, was not higher than usual until November; the state measures had worked for this group, it said.

What about excess mortality from Covid-19 in other European countries?

According to statisticians, an unusually high excess mortality rate was recently reported across Europe for Switzerland and Slovenia. Italy, Austria and Portugal had very high or high excess mortality rates. ©

 The  Italian statistics agency Istat reported in mid-December that, according to a forecast, there would be more deaths in Italy in 2020 than since the Second World War. ©

 The  EuroMOMO network for observing developments in mortality provides an up-to-date overview of the situation in the various countries.

Russia registered record

According to government figures, excess mortality in Russia between January and November 2020 was more than 13 percent compared to the same period last year. Around 81 percent of the additional deaths are due to Corona. ©

 The  number of corona deaths is therefore more than twice as high as initially announced. Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 115,000 people have died with the virus in the country, Deputy Prime Minister Golikova said on state television. In more than 70,900 of them, the death was solely due to Covid-19.

High excess mortality in the US

In October 2020, the CDC published an investigation into excess mortality in the United States. In early October, the US recorded around 200,000 coronavirus-related deaths in official statistics. According to the CDC calculation, there was an excess mortality of almost 300,000 people in 2020. Around two-thirds of the cases can be attributed to Covid-19, according to the CDC. In the case of further deaths, the CDC assumes that the cause of death was sometimes incorrectly seen in other diseases. ©

 The  study authors also explained general excess mortality by the fact that access to health care was restricted because of the pandemic.

Excess mortality among white Americans is significantly lower


 The  excess mortality rate among Latinos and blacks in the United States increased by about 54 and 33 percent, respectively, and that of Americans of Asian descent by about 37 percent. ©

 The  excess mortality rate among white citizens was therefore twelve percent. This discrepancy is often explained by the fact that white US citizens are often better off economically and therefore have better access to medical care.

(Stand 05.02.2021)

Further articles on the coronavirus

We have created a news blog. In view of the large amount of information, this provides an overview of the most important current developments.

+ Extended lockdown: what rules apply and what opening perspectives are there? (As of February 17th)
+ New rules: How the federal states implement the lockdown resolutions (as of February 17)
+ Border controls: what to watch out for (as of February 15)

Test and protection

+ Protection: ©

 The  vaccination ordinance: who will be vaccinated first, who later? (As of: February 17th)
+ Dates: how, when and where can I get vaccinated? (Status: February 12th)
+ Vaccinations: What is known about the side effects of the corona vaccine (as of February 16)
+ Astrazeneca vaccine: reports of side effects and acceptance problems – experts disagree (17.02.)
+ Protection: So it is about the development of vaccines against the coronavirus (as of February 15)
+ Change of strategy: are rapid tests the breakthrough in fighting pandemics? (As of February 16)
+ Sick people: New insights into the search for drugs (as of January 30)
Treatment: How does an antibody drug work and when is it useful? (As of January 25th)
+ Economy: How the world of work deals with the number of infections (as of February 16)

Contagion and Transmission

+ Virus variants: how dangerous are the new mutations of the coronavirus? (As of: February 17th)
+ Opponents of infection protection measures: What AfD and lateral thinkers have to do with the spread of the coronavirus in Germany (as of 02/09)
+ Transfer: What role do aerosols play (as of January 22)
+ Excess mortality: how deadly is the coronavirus really? (Status: 05.02.)
+ Travel warning: ©

 The  current list of risk areas (as of February 17th)

You can also find the Dlf news on Twitter at: @DLFNews.

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