More Australians have died from Covid in the past six months than during the previous two years of the pandemic.
A new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has provided fresh insight into how the virus has impacted the country’s health.
One way to understand the impact of the pandemic is to look at the death rates – or what the experts call excess mortality.
It is a measure that calculates how many people are expected to die per week compared to how many people have actually died.
Deaths above the expected rate for two consecutive weeks are referred to as “excess mortality”.
Before the pandemic, death rates were falling.
With lockdowns and other public health measures, Australia had fewer deaths from all causes in 2020 and 2021.
“There were 205 fewer deaths than expected in 2020 and 94 more deaths than expected in 2021,” said Matthew James, deputy CEO of AIHW.
This was largely due to the reduced number of deaths from flu and pneumonia.
Australia has managed to keep the number of Covid deaths very low for almost two years.
But the decision to roll back restrictions amid rising Omicron cases led to 3,105 more deaths than expected in January and February 2022 alone.
If you lived in a low socio-economic area, you were three times more likely to die from Covid than those who lived in the highest socio-economic area.
If you were born abroad, you were 2.5 times more likely to die from Covid.
In addition, the rate of serious illness from Covid-19 (ICU admission and/or death) was seven times higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people compared to the Australian population in general.
In 2021, Covid-19 was good for 23,000 lost healthy years.
The AIHW said the total lethal burden — or life years lost from premature death — from the virus is equivalent to 15 life years lost per person.
How does this compare to other diseases?
The data indicates that while Covid-19 was responsible for much of the additional deaths in the first part of 2022, there were also more-than-expected deaths from other conditions.
Deaths from coronary heart disease (29 percent), dementia (24 percent), and chronic lower respiratory tract disease (23 percent) were also higher.
Stoke (20 percent) and diabetes (14 percent) round out the top five biggest killers this year so far.
The good news
During pandemic lockdowns, there was concern that social distancing measures could lead to an increase in suspected suicide deaths.
Thursday’s AIHW report indicates to date that the fear has not materialized.
“Despite an increase in the use of mental health services and an increase in mental health problems, Covid-19 has not been associated with an increase in suspected suicide deaths,” James said.