More Kiwis dying than ever before after mortality rates fell

Joy Reid
Source: 1News

After a fall in mortality rates during the pandemic, more Kiwis are dying than ever before and experts fear it could rise even further as winter bites and Covid-19 cases rise again.

Data analyst company Melville Jessup Weaver Ltd says “the latest Statistics New Zealand data (for the period ended 12 June 2022) shows that about 36,000 Kiwis died over the preceding year – the highest on record".

This comes after a remarkable fall in mortality during the pandemic.

Melville Jessup Weaver say there were "some 6200 fewer deaths experienced over 2020 and 2021 compared with what would have otherwise been expected".

But for the first half of this year, as Covid-19 circulates in the community, "mortality is running above average".

"We have seen a mortality rate of around 0.75% since mid-March which is more akin to the mortality rate during a typical winter season."

Rachel Benns of Resthaven funeral homes runs 11 funeral homes across Auckland.

She says they’ve seen a 20% increase on pre-pandemic numbers and "some funerals are taking a few days longer just to fit the demand".

Benns says more people are opting to hold a service for their loved one too.

"There seems to be a slight increase in the elderly from previous years and I think that's all to do the vulnerable. They all stayed away during Covid, they kept themselves safe and now we've got the borders open, Covid in the community and we've got flu coming into the country."

Epidemiologist Michael Baker said: “Unfortunately mortality this year with the arrival of omicron has risen really markedly. We know that around 80% of the deaths that have been recorded as due to Covid, that are assigned every day, would not have happened if the virus hadn't been here."

Baker said the current death rate "is relatively high by world standards, we've had a great run in NZ with the elimination strategy for the first 2 years but now we're joining the rest of the world with widespread exposure and we have seen deaths go up".

"We've got very wide exposure to the omicron variant and we're seeing 15 people on average a day dying from this infection so that's pushing up our mortality in NZ."

However he says even with the current higher death rate, there are still many New Zealanders alive today than would have been if we hadn't had a pandemic and the corresponding lockdowns.

Rhonda Sheriff of Chatswood Resthome says hygiene measures have saved lives.

"We've been extremely vigilant over the past couple of years in terms of protecting our residents and I think this is the outcome from that."

Baker says while "it's a major achievement, we're now losing ground very rapidly".

"We would expect it to potentially to get worse now because we've seen case numbers rise by over 50% in the last 10 days (cases and hospitalisations) and also seeing deaths track up again."

The Melville Jessup Weaver report says "our modelling suggests that 2022 is on course for approximately 610 more deaths than would be expected.

"This compares with some 6,200 fewer deaths experienced over 2020 and 2021 compared with what would have been otherwise expected."