Latest release

Provisional Mortality Statistics

Provisional deaths data for measuring changes in patterns of mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery period

Reference period
Jan-Dec 2020

Key statistics

  • 141,116 deaths occurred in 2020 and were registered by 28 February 2021 in line with the baseline average.
  • Numbers of deaths were above the baseline average in December 2020.
  • Numbers of cancer, diabetes and dementia deaths were above baseline averages in December.

2020 in review

Numbers of deaths throughout 2020 by month are shown in the table below. This table provides counts of deaths for all of 2020 (rather than only to 29 December), for deaths that were registered by 28 February 2021. Some deaths that occurred in 2020 may not have been registered and reported as yet.

Key points relating to 2020 deaths include:

  • 141,116 doctor certified deaths occurred between 1 January 2020 and 31 December 2020 and were registered by 28 February 2021. This equates to an average of 385.6 deaths per day, in line with the baseline average of 385.8. 
  • The seasonality of deaths in 2020 was less pronounced, with numbers of deaths being higher than historical averages in summer and lower in winter. There were also substantial differences in numbers of deaths for some causes when compared to historical averages.
  • Deaths due to respiratory disease were 16.2% lower than historical averages. Decreases were recorded in both chronic and acute respiratory diseases.
  • Influenza and pneumonia deaths were 36.0% lower than the historical average with this result heavily influenced by a particularly mild flu season.
  • Deaths due to ischaemic heart disease and cerebrovascular diseases were below average for every month of 2020, and were 10.7% and 7.8% below average for the year respectively.
  • Deaths due to cancer, dementia and diabetes were above historical averages by 4.0%, 7.3% and 9.1% respectively. Numbers of dementia deaths did not reach the usual peak during the winter months but higher counts of deaths between January and April contributed to the increase overall for 2020.  Diabetes deaths were above average for most of the year and particularly high in April with 33.7% more deaths than average. 
Monthly doctor certified deaths, 2020
 2020JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
All causes             
2020141116111961079911789116781224211535125381290611973116981122911533
2015-19 average14089210906997511078110081205812258132411356012579120481107711104
2015-19 minimum137278114081039911467113521248212904139711460613603122941138711273
2015-19 maximum14410410444960110727107661160811786128871304711948116421062610820
COVID-19             
2020832002163921334451391541
Respiratory diseases             
2020120221025949110710091027987102010481046917903984
2015-19 average1435097184994598511771248149117231583130610681004
Influenza and pneumonia             
20202131179183237232189186192186152129123143
2015-19 average3332189165178208249280358491466322226200
Pneumonia             
20202089169175219228189185191186152129123143
2015-19 average2723177156166187222245296330294255207188
Chronic lower respiratory conditions             
20206680568538605526550547537570602549520568
2015-19 average7652549467530531651665802858785678582554
Cancer             
202047919396438574043386141123826417539923945406939814094
2015-19 average46074382935423929375539383850397739633757389737663871
Ischaemic heart disease             
20201347310179981069110512211138120312791204113110341074
2015-19 average15082115410421143116513281363148714941344126811711123
Cerebrovascular diseases             
20208982685660707775844789769815748782708700
2015-19 average9745775676775792864871894938857808731764
Dementia             
202014488115611241247128512401187127212941199119711161171
2015-19 average135039889051058105611821192131413501222115210351049
Diabetes             
20204860334374392456415417428435422415372400
2015-19 average4453340320342341379399442433402368340347

 

Measuring ‘excess’ deaths

Excess mortality is an epidemiological concept typically defined as the difference between the observed number of deaths in a specified time period and the expected numbers of deaths in that same time period. Estimates of excess deaths can provide information about the burden of mortality potentially related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including deaths that are directly or indirectly attributed to COVID-19.

Throughout this report, counts of deaths for 2020 are compared to an average number of deaths recorded over the previous 5 years (2015-2019). These average or baseline counts serve as a proxy for the expected number of deaths, so comparisons against baseline counts can provide an indication of excess mortality. The minimum and maximum counts from 2015-19 are also included to provide an indication of the range of previous counts. Minimums and maximums for any given week can be from any of the five years from 2015-19.

Australian deaths by week, 1 January to 29 December 2020

All deaths certified by a doctor

Tracking the number of doctor certified deaths against historical averages provides an indication of when excess deaths may occur. In 2020, this is of particular relevance because of the many potential public health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The number of COVID-19 infections by week in Australia is highlighted alongside total deaths to enable a comparison of the timelines for the pandemic with changes in numbers of deaths. Over the period from 1 January through to 29 December, the first peak of COVID-19 infections in Australia was recorded from mid-March to mid-April. Numbers were then low through to mid-June before rising to a peak in late July and early August as infection rates in Victoria increased. Infections declined from mid August as the Victorian lockdown controlled community transmission.

  • 140,363 doctor certified deaths occurred between 1 January 2020 and 29 December 2020 and were registered by 28 February 2021. This compares to a baseline average of 140,471 over the past 5 years. 
  • Deaths in 2020 have not followed the typical seasonal pattern with above average numbers of deaths in the warmer months and below average deaths in the colder months. Overall, the number of deaths for the year is very close to the historical average. 

Note: This analysis does not include coroner referred deaths. Any changes in patterns of coroner referral could affect counts of doctor certified deaths. Some conditions have higher coroner referral rates (ischaemic heart disease, cerebrovascular diseases and to a lesser extent respiratory diseases and diabetes) so counts for those conditions would be more likely to be affected by such changes.

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  1. This graph is compiled by the date the death occurred.
  2. This data is considered to be provisional and subject to change as additional data is received.
  3. Weeks in this graph always have 7 days. Leap years result in slightly different dates being included in each week from week 9 on, with week 53 containing two days in a leap year but only one day in other years.
  4. Refer to explanatory notes on the Methodology page of this publication for more information regarding the data in this graph.
  5. Data for the number of COVID-19 infections has been sourced from the COVID-19 daily infections graph published on the Australian Government Department of Health website. Data extracted 1 March 2021.

Ischaemic heart disease

Ischaemic heart disease is the leading cause of death in Australia. The category includes acute conditions such as myocardial infarction and chronic conditions such as coronary atherosclerosis.

  • 13,405 deaths occurred from ischaemic heart disease between 1 January 2020 and 29 December 2020.
  • The average number of deaths recorded for the same period between 2015 and 2019 was 15,034.
  • Counts of ischaemic heart disease deaths have been lower than the baseline average since the week ending 12 May and have tracked lower than the minimum range for much of that period. Between 13 May and 29 December, there have been 8,733 deaths, 1,265 below the average of 9,998.
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  1. Ischaemic heart disease includes all deaths where the underlying cause of death is assigned an ICD-10 code between I20-I25.
  2. This graph only includes doctor certified deaths.
  3. This graph is compiled by the date the death occurred.
  4. This data is considered to be provisional and subject to change as additional data is received.
  5. Weeks in this graph always have 7 days. Leap years result in slightly different dates being included in each week from week 9 on, with week 53 containing two days in a leap year but only one day in other years.
  6. Refer to the explanatory notes on the Methodology page of this publication for more information regarding the data in this graph.

Cerebrovascular diseases

Cerebrovascular diseases refer to a number of conditions such as stroke, cerebral aneurysms and stenosis that affect blood flow and circulation to the brain.

  • 8,930 deaths from cerebrovascular diseases (including strokes) occurred between 1 January and 29 December 2020.
  • The average number of deaths recorded for the same period between 2015 and 2019 was 9,719.
  • Deaths from cerebrovascular diseases have been below the historical average since mid November.
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  1. Cerebrovascular diseases include all deaths where the underlying cause of death is assigned an ICD-10 code between I60-I69.
  2. This graph only includes doctor certified deaths.
  3. This graph is compiled by the date the death occurred.
  4. This data is considered to be provisional and subject to change as additional data is received.
  5. Weeks in this graph always have 7 days. Leap years result in slightly different dates being included in each week from week 9 on, with week 53 containing two days in a leap year but only one day in other years.
  6. Refer to explanatory notes on the Methodology page of this publication for more information regarding the data in this graph.

Respiratory diseases

Respiratory diseases include causes of death such as pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lower respiratory diseases (including emphysema and chronic bronchitis). Deaths due to COVID-19 are not included in this category. COVID-19 deaths are captured using WHO issued emergency codes U07.1 and U07.2 and are not currently grouped with any other diseases, though they are included in the total number of deaths.

  • There were 11,948 deaths from respiratory diseases between 1 January 2020 and 29 December 2020.
  • The average number of deaths for the same period between 2015 and 2019 was 14,310.
  • From early June to late November, the weekly number of deaths due to respiratory diseases has largely remained below the historical minimum for 2015-19.
  • Between 3 June and 1 December, there were 5,894 deaths, 2,464 below the average of 8,358.
  • Over the four weeks from 18 March to 14 April there were a total of 1,048 respiratory disease deaths, 157 more than the historical average for 2015-19.
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  1. Respiratory diseases include all deaths where the underlying cause of death is assigned an ICD-10 code between J00-J99.
  2. This graph only includes doctor certified deaths.
  3. This graph is compiled by the date the death occurred.
  4. This data is considered to be provisional and subject to change as additional data is received.
  5. Weeks in this graph always have 7 days. Leap years result in slightly different dates being included in each week from week 9 on, with week 53 containing two days in a leap year but only one day in other years.
  6. Refer to the explanatory notes on the Methodology page of this publication for more information regarding the data in this graph.

Chronic lower respiratory diseases

Chronic lower respiratory diseases include chronic bronchitis, emphysema, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD). Chronic lower respiratory diseases are a sub-group of respiratory diseases (J00-J99).

  • There were 6,638 deaths from chronic lower respiratory diseases from 1 January to 29 December 2020.
  • The average of number of deaths for the same period from 2015 to 2019 was 7,630.
  • The number of deaths from chronic lower respiratory diseases has not followed the usual seasonal pattern, with deaths below the historical average from May to November. 
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  1. Chronic lower respiratory diseases include all deaths where the underlying cause of death is assigned an ICD-10 code between J40-J47.
  2. This graph only includes doctor certified deaths.
  3. This graph is compiled by the date the death occurred.
  4. This data is considered to be provisional and subject to change as additional data is received.
  5. Weeks in this graph always have 7 days. Leap years result in slightly different dates being included in each week from week 9 on, with week 53 containing two days in a leap year but only one day in other years.
  6. Refer to explanatory notes on the Methodology page of this publication for more information regarding the data in this graph.

Influenza and pneumonia

Influenza and pneumonia are acute respiratory diseases often grouped together when compiling leading causes of death. They are two distinct diseases: influenza is a viral infection, while pneumonia can be caused by a virus, bacteria or fungi. Influenza is a common cause of pneumonia.

Influenza deaths are highly seasonal and most commonly occur in Australia between the months of May and September. The timing, length and severity of the influenza season varies considerably from year to year. For this reason, influenza deaths have been excluded from the graph below so pneumonia deaths can be tracked separately.

Influenza and pneumonia are a subset of respiratory diseases (J00-J99).

  • There were 2,122 deaths due to influenza and pneumonia recorded from 1 January to 29 December 2020.
  • The average number of deaths recorded over the same period from 2015 to 2019 was 3,326.

Influenza

  • From 1 January to 24 November 2020, there have been 42 deaths due to influenza, with 40 of those deaths occurring before 22 April and none since late July. 

Pneumonia

  • Over the three weeks from 25 March to 14 April there were a total of 208 pneumonia deaths, 81 more than the historical average for 2015-19.
  • From the week ending 16 June 2020 the numbers of deaths due to pneumonia have been largely below the historical baseline minimum. 
  • Between 3 June and 29 December, there have been 1,089 deaths, 700 below the average of 1,789.
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  1. Pneumonia includes all deaths where the underlying cause of death is assigned an ICD-10 code between J12-J18.
  2. This graph only includes doctor certified deaths.
  3. This graph is compiled by the date the death occurred.
  4. This data is considered to be provisional and subject to change as additional data is received.
  5. Weeks in this graph always have 7 days. Leap years result in slightly different dates being included in each week from week 9 on, with week 53 containing two days in a leap year but only one day in other years.
  6. Refer to the explanatory notes on the Methodology page of this publication for more information regarding the data in this graph.

Cancer

Cancer includes malignant neoplasms encompassing carcinomas, sarcomas and lymph and blood cancers.

  • 47,652 deaths from cancer occurred between 1 January and 29 December 2020.
  • The average number of deaths for the same time period from 2015-2019 was 45,922.
  • Numbers of cancer deaths were generally higher than historical baseline averages for most of the year, and since July have fluctuated around the maximum range.
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  1. Cancer includes all deaths where the underlying cause of death is assigned an ICD-10 code between C00-C97, D45, D46, D47.1 or D47.3-D47.5.
  2. This graph only includes doctor certified deaths.
  3. This graph is compiled by the date the death occurred.
  4. This data is considered to be provisional and subject to change as additional data is received.
  5. Weeks in this graph always have 7 days. Leap years result in slightly different dates being included in each week from week 9 on, with week 53 containing two days in a leap year but only one day in other years.
  6. Refer to the explanatory notes on the Methodology page in this publication for more information regarding the data in this graph.

Diabetes

Diabetes includes both Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes. The majority of diabetes deaths are from Type 2 diabetes.

  • 4,831 deaths from diabetes occurred between 1 January to 29 December 2020.
  • The average number of deaths over the same period from 2015 and 2019 was 4,442.
  • Over the six weeks from 25 March to 5 May, diabetes deaths were above 5 year maximums. A total of 631 diabetes deaths were recorded during those 6 weeks, 163 more than the historical average for 2015-19.
  • Deaths from diabetes declined slowly from mid April and remained closer to historical averages through the winter months. Monthly data shows that diabetes deaths have been above average in October (12.8%), November (9.4%) and December (15.3%).
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  1. Diabetes includes all deaths where the underlying cause of death is assigned an ICD-10 code between E10-E14.
  2. This graph only includes doctor certified deaths.
  3. This graph is compiled by the date the death occurred.
  4. This data is considered to be provisional and subject to change as additional data is received.
  5. Weeks in this graph always have 7 days. Leap years result in slightly different dates being included in each week from week 9 on, with week 53 containing two days in a leap year but only one day in other years.
  6. Refer to the explanatory notes on the Methodology page of this publication for more information regarding the data in this graph.

Dementia, including Alzheimer disease

Dementia, including Alzheimer disease, is the second leading cause of death in Australia and counts of deaths from dementia have increased steadily over the past 20 years. This increase should be taken into consideration when comparing 2020 counts against baseline averages.

  • 14,400 deaths from dementia, including Alzheimer disease, occurred between 1 January and 29 December 2020.
  • The average number of deaths for the same period from 2015 to 2019 was 13,469.
  • Deaths due to dementia were above historical averages in all weeks from January through to the end of April, and mostly above the maximum range. From May to mid November, dementia deaths have more closely tracked the historical average. They have been consistently above average since mid November, resulting in November deaths being 7.8% above average and December deaths being 11.6% above average.
  • Over the six weeks from 18 March to 4 May there were a total of 1,813 deaths, 338 more than the historical averages for 2015-19.
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  1. Dementia, including Alzheimer Disease includes all deaths where the underlying cause of death is assigned an ICD-10 code of F01, F03 or G30.
  2. This graph only includes doctor certified deaths.
  3. This graph is compiled by the date the death occurred.
  4. This data is considered to be provisional and subject to change as additional data is received.
  5. Weeks in this graph always have 7 days. Leap years result in slightly different dates being included in each week from week 9 on, with week 53 containing two days in a leap year but only one day in other years.
  6. Refer to the explanatory notes on the Methodology page of this publication for more information regarding the data in this graph.

Timeliness and completeness of data

Each death registration in the national mortality dataset has 3 dates:

  • The date on which the death occurred.
  • The date on which the death was registered with the jurisdictional Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages (RBDM).
  • The date on which the death was lodged with the ABS.
     

The time between the occurrence of a death and registration can vary, although in general, deaths certified by a doctor are registered sooner. Coroner certified deaths undergo extensive investigative processes which can delay registration times, and for this reason they are excluded from the provisional mortality reports.

When looking to measure change over time, the completeness of data for the most recent period is important. When data are received each month by the ABS, the lag between the date of death and date of registration means that only 40-50% of reported registrations are of deaths that occurred in the month being reported. The remainder are deaths that occurred in earlier months. After a second month of reporting, approximately 95% of doctor certified registrations have been received. This is considered sufficiently complete to enable meaningful comparison with historical counts, noting that the level of completeness will be higher for the start of any given month than the end of that month.

This pattern of registration and reporting is highlighted in the table below, which also shows the slight variation in reporting timelines by cause of death. This should be considered when comparing 2020 data to the 2015-2019 baseline data.

 

Cause of deathReported at the end of the month the death occurredReported at the end of the month after the death occurredTotal portion reported at the end of the month after the death occurred
All cause

45.8%

48.6%

94.4%

Ischaemic heart disease (I20 – I25)

45.2%

49.2%

94.4%

Cerebrovascular diseases (I60 – I69)

45.4%

49.3%

94.7%

Respiratory diseases (J00 – J99)

45.5%

48.7%

94.2%

Chronic lower respiratory diseases (J40 – J47)

45.4%

48.3%

93.7%

Influenza and pneumonia (J09 – J18)

45.7%

49.2%

94.9%

Cancer (C00 – C97, D45, D56, D47.1, D47.3 – D47.5)

46.9%

48.0%

94.9%

Diabetes (E10 – E14)

43.6%

49.0%

92.7%

Dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease (F01, F03, G30)

46.0%

48.6%

94.6%

a. Percentages are based on the average of 5 years (2015-2019) of receipt of death registrations.
b. This table only includes doctor certified deaths.
c. Data is subject to change.
 

The graph below shows how numbers of deaths for each period have increased over time as additional registrations that occurred in previous months are reported to the ABS. Due to these increases, data for the most recently reported periods should be treated with caution.

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Future releases

Updates to this report will be released on a monthly basis. Tracking of all doctor certified deaths and deaths by specified causes will continue for the 2020 reference period.

Each new report will include those deaths that have been registered and reported to the ABS since the previous report. As some of those deaths will have occurred in time periods covered in previous reports, the counts of deaths for those time periods will change from one report to the next.

Numbers of deaths cannot be aggregated across months to calculate a quarterly or annual count of deaths, as additional deaths for any given reference period can be registered and reported many months after the date on which they occur. 

Data downloads

Provisional mortality statistics weekly dashboard, Jan-Dec 2020

Doctor certified deaths by week of occurrence, 2015-19

Previous catalogue number

This release previously used catalogue number 3303.0.55.004