Flowers rest in front oof crosses placed to remember the residents of Camilla Care Community who have lost their lives to COVID-19, in Mississauga, Ont. on Monday, May 11, 2020. Provisional estimates from Statistics Canada suggest nearly 14,000 more deaths than expected took place last year, even accounting for the pandemic and an aging population. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Pandemic toll: StatCan data estimates nearly 14,000 more deaths than expected in 2020

Pandemic toll: StatCan data estimates nearly 14,000 more deaths than expected in 2020

OTTAWA — Provisional estimates from Statistics Canada suggest nearly 14,000 more deaths than expected took place last year, even accounting for the pandemic and an aging population.

The early numbers attempt to measure so-called “excess mortality,” which occurs when there are more deaths during a period of time than would be expected.

The report estimates 296,373 deaths from January to mid-December 2020, including 13,798 more deaths than expected, or a five per cent increase.

It’s about seven per cent more than the 277,276 deaths seen in 2019.

StatCan cautions that Wednesday’s figures are considered “provisional estimates,” noting data was incomplete due to reporting delays and do not include the Yukon. They will be revised as more information comes in, and may not match local reports.

StatCan also notes that excess mortality numbers may actually include COVID-19-related deaths that were missed, especially at the start of the pandemic when some people may have died before getting tested.

Despite the limitations, the study does offer an early attempt to quantify the true toll of COVID-19 and its myriad impacts, as access to health services became restricted and mental-health crises increased.

The early data already suggests that deaths due to heart disease, for instance, rose last spring in Ontario.

Based on data received to date,StatCan found 4,345 heart disease deaths from March to June in that province – up from 4,125 in the spring of 2019 and higher than in the spring of any of the previous five years.

The estimates also echo reports of more overdose deaths in 2020, following an apparent decline in 2019 from highs in 2017 and 2018.

The study says Alberta reported 220 overdose deaths from March to June 2020, up from 170 deaths the previous year.

StatCan notes Alberta Health Services reported more opioid-related emergencies and deaths but also a drop in the number of substance use treatment programs on offer, and a drop in the number of people using those programs.

A similar update last August looked at spring data and noted that excess mortality may also be due to other causes not directly linked to the pandemic.

As an example, excess deaths recorded in Nova Scotia in April were partly driven by a mass shooting April 18 and 19.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 10, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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