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What’s meant by excess deaths?

Not all people who die from COVID-19 have been tested for the coronavirus, That is why they are not reflected in the figure for COVID-19 deaths. But they are included in the figure for total deaths in the Netherlands. For example, you can get a better picture of COVID-19 deaths by looking at numbers of excess deaths.

A funeral director at work

This article explains the 'Deaths' page on the dashboard. You will also find the most recent figures there.

Statistics Netherlands (CBS) keeps a record of the numbers of deaths in the Netherlands. Normally speaking – when there is no COVID-19 pandemic – an average of 2,900 people die each week. This is the expected mortality rate, which may be higher or lower depending on the time of year. If you compare the expected mortality rate for a certain month with the actual number of deaths, you can see how there are more deaths during a flu epidemic or a heatwave, for example. These are what we call excess deaths. The figures also show the impact of coronavirus. During the first wave of the pandemic, Statistics Netherlands recorded 15,000 extra deaths.

Excess deaths on the dashboard

In the graph showing total number of deaths per week, the light blue line shows the expected mortality on the basis of the average over previous years. The figure can fluctuate: some years it is a bit lower, and some years a bit higher. The light blue band shows the range that the expected number of deaths normally falls into. The dark blue line shows the number of deaths this year. If the dark blue line extends above the light blue strip, there is excess mortality. There are three peaks in the dark blue line in the graph below. These show the excess deaths that occurred during the first wave of the pandemic in March, during the heatwave from 10 to 16 August, and during the second wave of the pandemic.

This graph shows excess mortality since the start of the corona crisis until the end of 2020

Fewer deaths than expected

It’s also possible for there to be fewer deaths than would be expected on the basis of the average. This often follows a period of excess deaths. A peak in the graph is often followed by a trough. This is because people who were in poor health have already died, in this case during the pandemic. If there hadn’t been a pandemic, these people would have died later. It is very clear that far more people than usual will die in the course of the coronavirus pandemic.

The exact number of deaths in a period will only become clear later, when CBS has the mortality figures based on cause of death. In this article you can read more about mortality based on cause of death.

The dashboard also gives a daily update on the number of reported deaths from COVID-19. You can read more about these reported deaths in this article.