The ONS announced today that there were 38,899 deaths registered in England in April, which is 15% less than in March, and 6% less than the five-year average. However, as I’ve noted before, the best overall measure of mortality isn’t the number of deaths, or even the death rate, but rather the age-standardised mortality rate.
In April, the age-standardised mortality rate was 12% lower than in March, and a remarkable 12.5% lower than the five-year average. As a matter of fact, it was the lowest on record for that month. (The ONS’s dataset goes back as far as 2001, and given that mortality has been decreasing more-or-less continuously for the past few decades, April’s age-standardised mortality rate was probably the lowest ever.)
This chart from the ONS shows the age-standardised mortality rate for the first four months of the year, each year, going back to 2001:
Although 2021’s figure was higher than the figure for 2019, it was only 0.2% higher than the figure for 2018, and was actually equal to the figure for 2015. Hence – despite higher-than-expected mortality in January and February – the overall level of mortality in the first four months of the year was close to what you’d expect.
If the age-standardised mortality rate remains low for the next two or three months, it will “cancel out” a large share of the excess mortality observed in the second wave. Indeed, the most plausible explanation for the current low level of mortality is that deaths were “brought forward” by the pandemic.
This post has been updated.