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EU excess mortality fell 20% during 2022 omicron surge

The EU tracked a clear decline in pandemic-era excess mortality, linked in large part to vaccination rates.

(CN) — Although excess mortality has climbed with each new variant of the virus that causes Covid-19, the EU reported a significant drop in deaths at the beginning of the year even as omicron spread at record pace throughout the continent.

Across the EU, excess mortality remained just 7% higher in January and February than pre-pandemic averages, representing a 19-point decline compared to the delta surge this past November. The EU recorded four major increases in excess mortality during the Covid-19 pandemic, adding up to 1.2 million more deaths than would have been considered typical before 2020.

“Statistics on excess deaths provide information about the burden of mortality potentially related to the Covid-19 pandemic, thereby covering not only deaths that are directly attributed to the virus but also those indirectly related to it,” a statement from the EU's statistics agency Eurostat explained. “It also accounts for the partial absence of deaths from other causes like accidents that did not occur due, for example, to the limitations in commuting or travel during the lockdown periods.”

Rates of excess mortality varied among EU member states, along with vaccination uptake and reported disease infections. With mortality rates 44% higher than the baseline, Bulgaria reported the highest January and February deaths in the EU, followed by Romania (28%) and Greece (25%).

Health experts have drawn clear links between low mortality and high vaccination rates.

Less than a third of Bulgaria’s population has been vaccinated against Covid-19, according to European Center for Disease Prevention and Control's vaccine tracker. Romania is reported to have the second lowest vaccination rate in the EU, with an estimated 42% vaccinated and 8% boosted.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised against Americans traveling in Romania in January; similar warnings were issued against travel to Bulgaria and Greece this past fall.

An estimated 73% of Greeks have been vaccinated against Covid-19 to date, with a little more than half receiving boosters. Still the government has attributed the death toll to low uptake of vaccines among vulnerable elderly populations and the presence of comorbidities among the vaccinated.

“People who are completely vaccinated usually have one or more comorbidities,” said Maria Theodoridou, president of Greece’s National Vaccination Committee in a briefing. “This distinction gives the impression of a larger number than what may be the actual number of people dying from the coronavirus itself.”

Three countries reporting more than three-quarters of their population vaccinated — Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium — also reported mortality rates slightly below the pre-pandemic baseline.

Over the last two years the U.S. Census also recorded its largest increase in mortality in over a century, with a near 20% increase from historical averages.

Even as new variants have been identified in South Africa and Europe, Covid-19 infections and deaths declined globally through April, according to the World Health Organization which tracked a 24% decrease in cases between the first two weeks of April, along with an 18% decline in deaths.

Worldwide, the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19 has infected more than 496 million people and claimed 6 million lives since December 2019.

A color-coded map of Europe showing the varying degrees of excess mortality in February 2022. (Eurostat infographic)

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