Today, the government bureau of statistics, SCB, provided their weekly update on total deaths, that is, all deaths, not just Corona-related ones, in Sweden, Jan 1st to May 29th.
SCB also provides data from 5 previous years, so that we can, by comparing the numbers for 2020 – the Corona year – with e.g. the average for 2015-2019, calculate the “Excess Deaths”, that is, how many more people have died this year compared to average.
Let’s start by looking at a day-by-day view of Excess Deaths:
As can be seen from the graph above, the daily deaths started growing late March, to reach a peak in mid-April, with a peak of about 150 excess daily deaths, to be compared with an average daily death rate of about 260. However, from late April, the daily excess deaths have been going down, slowly but surely.
Also note that the last 4-5 days of the data are on the negative side – based on the numbers from previous weeks, we know that these negative numbers are going to be updated upwards later, so in the next set of graphs, I’ve removed the last few days, to obtain stable data.
The daily numbers are very noisy, so let’s look at a weekly aggregate, up including the week ending May 24th:
In the graph above we can clearly see that the number of excess deaths is going steadily down since mid- to late April, the weekly number of excess deaths was, for the week of May 24th, under 200.
Another thing to notice is that the year 2020 started with a “deficit” of deaths – up until mid-March, 2020 had less deaths than during the baseline years 2015-2019.
It was just the other day that I learned from one of Professor Michael Levitt’s presentations that for most of Europe, the winter season 2019/2020 had very few deaths caused by the normal seasonal flu, so I decided to look closer at the Swedish numbers, to see if I could se such a pattern. More about this in a moment.
But first, let’s look at the cumulative number of excess deaths for 2020, year-to-date:
Above we can see that Sweden by mid-March had a “deficit” of about 1300 deaths for the year, which seems like a plausible evidence of that this season’s winter flu was very mild, with very few casulties. Then, by late March, the number of deaths accelerated quickly, at the same time as Corona started accelerating.
At this point, that is, up until week of May 24th, Sweden has an excess of 3027 deaths, year-to-date. But since the winter flu season starts before Jan 1st, let’s change the start of the period we are looking at, from Jan 1st 2020, to May 2019, so that we get a full year from May 2019 until now:
The graph above shows daily deaths from May 2019 to 21st of May 2020, in red, and the baseline average in orange. Despite the data being noisy, we can see that during the winter months, this season’s deaths were lower compared to the baseline. Let’s look at the same data, aggregated weekly:
In the graph above we can see that the number of deaths this winter season was lower than during the baseline, with the largest difference during January to late March. That is, we had an accumulated death “deficit” by the time Corona came around. Thus, by April, there were many more vulnerable people, people within the risk group, around, exactly when Corona started to spread in the society, not least among the elderly in the nursing homes.
So, by taking this full “seasonal flu deficit” into account, the number of excess deaths goes from 3027 to 2276, which corresponds to 2% yearly increase thus far. That’s about twice the annual random variability, so there’s definitely an amount of excess deaths present thus far.
But it will be interesting to see by end of year, how much of excess death Corona-2020 in fact brought – it’s fully possible that by Dec 31st the number of excess deaths for year 2020 will be within random variability, that is, ~1000 from baseline mean, which inevitably will lead to some very interesting questions concerning the proportionality of the closedown of the society….
Thus, the interesting question becomes: were the measures taken to fight Corona, such as Lockdown’s, closure of schools/businesses etc, postponement of otherwise critical non-Corona related medical interventions, with all their negative effects on societies, effects that most likely will last for a very long time, and impact many more people than Corona itself, really in parity with the severity of the Corona virus…? Now, Sweden, as we all know, imposed in comparison with other countries, very limited restrictions on society, but regardless, the impact of Corona will be felt here for years to come. And for those countries that did close down hermetically, the consequences will most likely be far more severe, in terms of unemployment etc. Thus, to paraphrase a catchy marketing slogan:
Was it really worth it…?
[UPDATE: an interesting post on Corona’s impact on economy]