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The curious case of global excess deaths: Part 1

In brief: 

  • More people are dying than usual in many countries. 
  • After peaking at 32%, NZ now has 17% excess deaths.
  • NZ government data is sparse and hard to access. Why? Where is the media on the matter?

Dead right

More people are dying in England than usual, deaths are now at 20% above the expected rate (“excess mortality”). Recently, the Deputy Health Minister was questioned in the UK House of Commons on the matter. MP Esther McVey asked if the Health Ministry would commit to an urgent investigation on the matter.
In essence her answer was “We don’t need to look into the problem, because it’s a problem everywhere, not just England”.

Her reply made little sense, but it highlights a much bigger problem: excess mortality may not be happening everywhere, but it is happening in many countries, including New Zealand.

UK Chief Medical Officer Chris Witty blamed the excess mortality in part on low statin and heart medication uptake during the pandemic, claiming that lower drug use led to higher rates of heart failure and hypertension. The data simply doesn’t support that claim, in fact uptake of these drugs has slightly increased (around 15%) over that period, and rates of heart failure and hypertension are largely unchanged. The UK Government also blamed COVID-19 for some of the excess deaths, though official Government data indicates COVID related deaths are only a small part of the problem.

Covid deaths are only a small part of the problem

How does New Zealand look?

Our World in Data puts New Zealand in the middle of the pack as far as excess mortality goes. Currently 17% above the 5-year average, NZ’s excess mortality peaked last year at 32%. If accurate, this represents around 5,000 extra deaths in NZ.

Our World in Data shows these current excess mortality rates:

Canada  3%

Australia  9%

United States 12%

New Zealand 17%

England  20%

Germany  43%

Excess death is up in many parts of the world, in most age groups.

Compared to overseas, NZ government data is sparse and hard to access. The NZ Government – at least compared to England – is dropping the ball on this front. In fact, when running a search on the Statistics New Zealand website, it turns up zero results for ‘All Cause Excess Mortality’, which is a dataset that has often been requested.

In September UK’s Guardian newspaper reported the high number of UK deaths. The BBC said excess deaths in 2022 were at a 50-year high. The next day UK Sky News ran a headline saying extra deaths were “close to highest level in 70 years”, pointing out 35,000 more deaths than expected.

Nearly 6 months later, NZ Herald runs a story with similar speculations on why the deaths might be occurring. A large number of factors are considered suspects for at least some of the increase, but there is still a large number of unexplained deaths. The reasons offered range from delayed COVID effects to longer wait times at hospitals, but they are guessing.

Under New Zealand’s “open and transparent” Government, clear health data is lacking. Suicide numbers similarly have no recent figures readily available. In 2020-22 Kiwis received COVID updates with fresh figures every single day, yet now that excess deaths are increasing we hear very little from the Government or mainstream media. The summer road toll was followed closely by the media and Government, with a corresponding campaign – but, conspicuously to those that don’t just follow NZ news, nothing has been reported on excess deaths.
There is going to be subjectivity in this kind of analysis but it is governments that have the data. So it is incumbent on them to take the initiative. For whatever reason they seem to be very reluctant, and more-so in NZ than in many other places.

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