Mortality rate declines during the first year of the pandemic

Media Release

Mortality rate declines during the first year of the pandemic

Decreases across the top-five leading causes of death and a reduction in the overall mortality rate highlighted some of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Australian mortality in 2020, according to data released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

Director of Mortality Statistics at the ABS, Lauren Moran, said while the top-five causes in Australia remained the same in 2020, with heart disease still the leading cause of death, it was the first time the rate of death for each had all fallen since 2008-09. Dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease) ranked second, while strokes, lung cancer and chronic lower respiratory diseases rounded out the top-five.

“COVID-19 was the 38th ranked cause of death in 2020 with 898 deaths recorded through the civil registration system. Among those people, the most commonly reported co-morbidity was dementia (270 deaths), followed by chronic heart conditions, hypertension and diabetes.

“With fewer than 900 deaths from COVID-19 in 2020 and public health measures supressing the spread of other infectious diseases, deaths from many causes also decreased.

In particular there was a 24% decrease in people dying from respiratory diseases, the highest annual decrease recorded in the ABS dataset. These included diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and influenza. In fact, there were only 55 deaths due to the flu in 2020 and none reported after July compared with 1,080 in 2019.

There were also decreases in 2020 in deaths from preventable causes such as suicide, drug overdoses and motor vehicle accidents. The suicide rate was 12.1 per 100,000 people, down from 12.9 in 2019.

These factors contributed to declines in mortality across all age groups for both males and females. The highest proportional decreases in mortality rates were recorded among young males (aged 0-24) and among females aged over 85.

Despite reductions across many causes, alcohol-induced deaths increased by 8.3 per cent in 2020, with 108 additional deaths compared to 2019.

Comprehensive data and analysis can be found in both Deaths Australia and Causes of Death Australia, available for free download from the ABS website -

Media notes

  • Care should be taken when reporting suicide deaths. Please refer to the Mindframe website for further guidance.
  • Care should be taken when interpreting figures relating to suicide and when comparing suicide data with previous years. See the Intentional self-harm sub-section in Methodology for more information.
  • When reporting ABS data, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (or ABS) must be attributed as the source.
  • For media requests and interviews, contact the ABS media team at
  • Please see Deaths Australia for further information on all cause mortality. 
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