Covid becomes Australia’s third most common cause of death in 2022

There were 7,100 Covid deaths in the first seven months of 2022, according to new research from the Actuaries Institute, making the virus the third most common cause of death so far this year.

Daily surveillance reports from state and territory health departments recorded 9,550 Covid-19 deaths from the start of January until the end of July, including 1,934 deaths in July alone.

Modellers from the Actuaries Institute Covid-19 Mortality Working Group adjusted the deaths captured in this surveillance data to only include deaths where Covid-19 was the primary cause. They estimated 7,100 deaths were from Covid, as opposed to people who died from other conditions while also infected with Covid-19.

This means deaths from Covid-19 so far in 2022 will be higher than deaths from cardiovascular disease (largely stroke, with about 5,500 deaths) and lung cancer (5,400), but lower than ischaemic heart diseases and dementia with about 10,000 deaths each.

Heart disease is the overall leading cause of death in Australia.

The Covid deaths have been driven by the Omicron wave, in particular the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, combined with eased restrictions. But there are signs that the wave of cases and deaths may be abating.

On Monday the Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, said the state reached its peak on 25 July. However, the state’s chief health officer, John Gerrard, said he expects the next wave to hit in December.

“The current pattern we have seen in Queensland and worldwide is a wave every three months,” Gerrard said.

New South Wales recorded four deaths in the latest reporting period on Monday. The state has frequently had deaths in the double digits in recent months, including 15 on Saturday.

Victoria, which has also had high daily Covid death tolls in recent months, recorded one death on Monday.

There can be delays in collating Covid deaths data as health departments wait on reports from aged care homes, hospitals and other third parties, and for the cause of death to be confirmed.

According to the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, non-Covid deaths are also increasing in 2022. There were 59,147 deaths nationwide to 30 April, which is 8,513 deaths (16.8%) more than the baseline average.

Deaths due to dementia including Alzheimer’s disease were 20.7% above the historical average in April, and cancer deaths were 4.7% above average. Deaths due to diabetes were 10.3% above average.

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