Hungary excess mortality 50% in March over 2019

Excess mortality in Hungary was over 50% in March 2021 relative to 2019. Let that sink in. Wait, that can’t be right! Unfortunately, it can. And it is. At least according to official data by the Central Statistical Office (KSH). And it’s not all. The coronavirus pandemic has started to recede only recently, which means April will also be a dramatic month in terms of deaths. Not to mention that the KSH will keep revising its mortality statistics, and these figures will only get worse.
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A shocking discovery

Tables, charts and estimates by Balázs Pártos.

The charts below do not show anything else but facts you also find in the tables.

Before tackling these in more detail, here’s the most shocking discovery.

  • 15,145 people have died in Hungary in weeks 10-13 (March 8-Apr 4). There will be upward revisions, so the final data could be higher by up to 2,000.
  • 10,574 people died in weeks 10-13 (March 2-29) in 2020
  • 10,336 people died in weeks 10-13 (March 4-31) in 2019
  • 10,747 people died in weeks 10-13 in 2015-2019 (average).

Excess  mortality in weeks 10-13 in Hungary was:

  • 4,971 people (+47.0%) relative to 2020
  • 5,219 people (+50.5%) relative to 2019
  • 4,798 people (+44.6%) relative to 2015-2019 average

(Note: Weeks 10 to 13 spanned between March 4-31 in 2019, March 2-29 in 2020 and March 8-April 4 in 2021. If we make an adjustment for this year and compare previous deaths stats of weeks 10-13 with weeks 9-12 (March 1-28) this year, excess mortality changes to 43.9% over 2020, 47.4% for 2019, and to 41.6% for the 2015-19 average.)

Notes about the tables:

The upper section (green header) shows data for separate weeks: number of deaths, the difference between the same weeks of different years, and the ratio of the differences where the annual difference (for 2020, 2019 and 2015-19) is divided by the total weekly deaths of the given (base) year, not 2021. Also, it would have made no sense to compare 2021 to 2016-2020 because last year’s data are highly distortive due to the coronavirus pandemic. Hence the comparison to 2015-19.

The lower section (blue header) shows accumulated figures, i.e. the second week shows deaths for the second AND first weeks, the third for the third, the second and first, etc. This is why the total on week 13 is the same in both tables.


Key observations:

Very few people died in early 2020. This stemmed from the fact that there was practically no influenza epidemic, but emigration might have also been a contributing factor. The early response by the cabinet to the coronavirus outbreak and the immediate lockdowns also helped.

March already stands out in terms of excess mortality, but these are preliminary data and the Central Statistical Office (KSH) is going to revise them and always upwardly. (April will be even worse.) Also note that weeks 10 to 13 do not cover the same days in 2021 as before (see note above).

Excess mortality per week in March was close to or over 50% relative to 2020 and over 60% relative to 2019 (on the last two weeks).

After the upward revisions (which could reach 300 to 400 more deaths per day when finalised) excess mortality could go as high as 70 to 80% on certain weeks.

Coronavirus vs. influenza

Excess mortality is currently 171 people per day in March (will go up), while the number of COVID-19 deaths per day is 187 (will not go up).

The reason why excess mortality is still lower is that about 80 people per day (2,400 per month) die of influenza in ‘normal’ years, but due to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic there was no flu epidemic this time, hence the 80-strong growth that would have hit in a flu season is now masked. This will no longer be the case in April when the flu is generally gone, so excess mortality will also be higher.

Another important note to the flu season is that it claims 3,000 to 4,000 lives generally and up to 5,000 to 6,000 lives in the worst seasons that generally last less than three months. Around 2,500 people die the most devastating months in a flu season, but the three-month average is usually around 1,200 to 1,400 or 1,700 to 1,900 at most. Also, generally no one under 50 dies of the flu.

Death toll could exceed 175,000-180,000 in 2021

In 2020, 62,681 people died in Hungary on the weeks 34 to 53.

In 2015-19, the average in the same period was 48,657.

In 2019, the comparative data is 47,479.

Excess mortality in the weeks 34-53 in 2020 was 14,024 (+28.8%) over 2015-19 and 15,202 (+32.0%) over 2019.

Excess mortality in the first quarter of 2021 (weeks 1-13) is currently 22.8%, but it is expected to rise further, possibly close to 30%.

Calculating with a constant 30% excess mortality relative to 2020 (although it will rise further because a lot of people died in April and the March data are to be revised upwardly too),

Hungary could be looking at 45,000 to 55,000 more deaths this year than in 2019 (and 30,000 to 35,000 more than last year).

The stats office reported 143,161 deaths for last year (data are still to be revised upwardly but not to a dramatic extent), which means that 180,000 to 190,000 people could die in Hungary this year.

However, there’s a high degree of uncertainty due to

  1. new variants that can be more infectious and more deadly;
  2. the efficacy of existing vaccines against these mutations;
  3. the impact of the easing of lockdown measures, a move many experts deemed too early.

Cover photo: Getty Images

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