OTTAWA — Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 40,349 more people died in Canada than expected, says the country’s vital statistics agency.
The unexpected deaths represent a 7.4 per cent increase in the number of people who died across the country if the pandemic were never to have happened, according to updated data released Thursday by Statistics Canada.
Excess mortality measures how many deaths actually occurred compared to what was expected under normal circumstances. It’s one way researchers have been able to figure out the true number of lives lost due to COVID-19. Last month, the World Health Organization reported the number of global excess deaths during the pandemic had climbed to nearly 15 million.
Over that same period, only 32,490 deaths were directly attributed to COVID-19, a gap Statistics Canada researchers say could be the result of “indirect consequences” from the pandemic, such as delayed medical procedures, increased substance use or declines in deaths from endemic diseases like influenza.
Omicron’s deadly legacy
When the highly infectious Omicron variant swept through Canada’s population in late 2021 and early 2022, many Canadians experienced relatively mild COVID-19 symptoms.
But as public health authorities and experts noted at the time, its highly infectious nature meant more people were infected, leading to a greater cumulative risk of death.
The latest Statistics Canada numbers confirm excess deaths increased across Canada in January 2022 in “a new period of significant excess mortality.”
The number of unexpected deaths across Canada in January surged to 4,085, a 13.2 per cent spike over what was expected without a pandemic.
Some groups of Canadians faced higher than expected death rates than others.
With 904 excess deaths, British Columbia experienced one of the highest rates of excess mortality at 22.2 per cent. That was only behind Quebec, which saw a 22.4 per cent increase in the number of unexpected deaths.
Younger Canadians and males also died at higher rates in January 2022, especially in the country's Western provinces.
Deaths of those under 45 years old were roughly 50 per cent higher than expected in Alberta and B.C., whereas older groups in these provinces saw excess mortality drop to less than half that, hovering around 20 per cent.
More deaths among men
Nationally, there were 11.7 per cent more deaths among men in January, compared to 6.8 per cent for women. But that gap was not consistent across the country.
At 1.6 times higher than the national average, B.C. reported the highest excess mortality rate among males in the country. The number of males who died in B.C. in January 2022 was 26.5 per cent higher than expected, compared to a 16.5 per cent spike for females, according to Statistics Canada.
The statistics agency said data is not yet available on why and how people died in January 2022.
It’s important to keep in mind, warned the Statistics Canada researchers, deaths from both direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19.
As they put it, “many excess deaths among younger Canadians may be attributable to other causes, such as overdoses.”