All-cause mortality drops during pandemic year

Kerala registered 2,63,901 deaths in 2019, which dipped to 2,34,536 in 2020.

February 01, 2021 11:27 pm | Updated 11:29 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

Contrary to all assumptions that deaths in the State would have gone up in 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19, the absolute number of deaths went down by 11.1% in comparison with 2019.

Between 2015 and 2020, it was only last year that this reduction in mortality had occurred, according to an official report released by the Health Department. Kerala registered 2,63,901 deaths in 2019, which dipped in 2020.

The report says that most of the developed countries reported a huge increase in all-cause mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The annual crude death rate (per one lakh population) went up from 871 (2019) to 972 (2020) in the U.S. and from 1,447 (2019) to 1,571 (2020) in Italy. In comparison, this figure went down for Kerala from 755 (2019) to 681 (2020). The Health Department has used this reduction in all-cause mortality to claim that this is an indication of the success of the preventive and promotive services provided by the government during the pandemic. It is also piggybacking on this reduction in all-cause mortality in 2020 to claim that there was no under-reporting of COVID deaths in the State, an allegation raised by various quarters.

The argument is that in Kerala, where registration of births and deaths is a continuous and fool-proof activity, any “hidden COVID deaths” would have reflected as a significant surge in the all-cause mortality rate in 2020. However, public health experts point out that it is highly likely that the additional COVID deaths are remaining invisible. This is probably because there would have been a natural reduction in deaths in 2020 due to fewer road traffic accidents and other respiratory illnesses like COPD, H1N1, pneumonia, and even food/water-borne illnesses etc. as people were indoors most of the time.

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