UPDATE 12 October 2022: Covid-19 and Australian Mortality

Please note: I have decided to remove Figure 3 from this post as I confused myself with the ABS changes to baselines and mortality counts. I will be very soon posting a further analysis of Covid which will present information in a much improved manner.

In a post last week (October 5) Jo Nova raised questions about an apparent surge in mortality in Australia this year.

There may be a simple explanation.

Also, it is time for an update on Covid-19 and mortality.

I have looked at ABS data for Australia as a whole and for four states: New South Wales (which eased restrictions earlier than some thought wise); Queensland (which had rigid border restrictions, then opened at the start of the Omicron wave); Victoria (which had lax early restrictions then became overly rigid); and Western Australia (which maintained border restrictions until 4 March this year).

Changes in the way ABS collect and publish data complicate analysis.  The ABS changed its baseline for calculations from January this year; and, as well, previous State and National mortality data now available for download is only for doctor certified deaths whereas 2022 State data is for total mortality figures (including data from coroners’ reports).    This can be confusing. I work around this by calculating the percentage change from the baseline.  The next figures illustrate this.

Figure 1: National Absolute Mortality (as certified by doctors)

The baseline changed in January 2022 as shown.  There was a large step up in the baseline at the same time as the Omicron wave.

Figure 2: NSW Absolute Mortality (as certified by doctors to December 2021 then all deaths from January 2022))

Notice the huge jump- that’s why I calculate percentage change from the expected number or baseline.

Figure 3: National Percentage Change in Mortality (removed)

The percentage change shows the fluctuations in mortality as a result of the Covid-19 waves, lockdowns, international border closures, and influenza.  There is nothing alarming about recent figures.

The next plot compares NSW with WA.  NSW relaxed restrictions early and WA kept borders closed until March 2022.

Figure 4: Percentage Change in Mortality- NSW and WA

WA missed most of Omicron.

Figure 5: Percentage Change in Mortality- Qld and Victoria

Victoria had major problems with hotel quarantine in the second wave, then imposed very severe restrictions, but again had large Delta and Omicron outbreaks.  Queensland may have had an “early” undetected first wave, a peak in Omicron, but had a larger than expected number of deaths in June 2022 due to a severe flu outbreak on top of already struggling public hospitals.

You will note the large weekly up and down spikes.  This is probably due to late reporting of deaths by doctors and nursing homes.  There was evidence of this in January this year in Queensland, when several weeks of nursing home deaths were added in one week.  The next plot smooths the weekly data with a centred 5 week running mean.

Figure 6: 5 Week Centred Mean of Percentage Change in Mortality

I have indicated the Covid peaks. 

Note: 

Queensland’s possible early first wave, and Victoria’s second, Delta, and Omicron waves show clearly.

Omicron struck Queensland, NSW, and Victoria hard with 27% to 37% increase on expected mortality (5 week averaged).

Queensland had a large number of unexpected deaths in 2021, beginning well before vaccine rollout. 

West Australia’s mortality figures are similar to other states, apart from largely missing Delta and Omicron.

The small peaks around weeks 68 -72 are not associated with vaccine rollout: vaccinations gathered speed after this time (early May 2021).

The ABS data does not show any large surge in unexplained deaths in 2022.

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One Response to “UPDATE 12 October 2022: Covid-19 and Australian Mortality”

  1. pjmacha Says:

    WA is likely different to eastern states, maybe more like SA, whereby it’s hotter, drier, windy and also less populated ( total and density). Outdoor activities are popular, like camping, fishing, beach, boating, golf, etc. All things anti-viral.

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