Experts blame COVID after nearly 20,000 extra deaths

Australia amassed nearly 20,000 more deaths last year than expected, and experts say COVID-19 is largely to blame.

The total excess mortality for the full 2022 calender year was an estimated 12 per cent, equating to around 19,800 more deaths than would have been predicted if not for the pandemic, the Actuaries Institute has found.

The excess mortality was 11 per cent between January and November last year, equating to more than 17,900 deaths. An estimate for December took the yearly figure to 19,800.

"These figures are a stark reminder of the tremendous impact COVID-19 has had across Australia," institute chief executive Elayne Grace said.

"Although people have largely moved on with their lives beyond the lockdowns and border closures, the fact is that COVID-19 remains a key contributor to the majority of excess mortality."

Australia's COVID deaths peaked during the last week of July, 2022, before trending downwards through to the end of October and then rising in November and December.

More than half of the excess deaths, or about 10,300, in 2022 were due to COVID, the institute found.

COVID also contributed to another 2900 deaths, while the virus was not mentioned on the death certificates of the remaining 6600 people.

While there was a large number of excess deaths with no documented COVID involved, researchers believe the pandemic likely played a role in many of the deaths because of three main factors, the institute's working group spokeswoman Karen Cutter said.

"Firstly, mortality risk is higher subsequent to an acute COVID infection, and most Australians have now had COVID-19," she said.

"Secondly, people have not accessed medical care when needed, either through inability (in emergency situations) or through fear/lack of opportunity (thus missing routine care earlier in the pandemic).

"Lastly, some of these deaths could be undiagnosed COVID-19 deaths."

The working group analysed the Australian Bureau of Statistics' latest provisional mortality data.

Ms Cutter described the 12 per cent excess mortality in a year as exceptional.

Most of the excess deaths were among people aged over 65, however, excess mortality was a significant percentage in all age groups in 2022, the researchers found.