Excess Death Stats

New Zealand

This page uses statistics that were available for New Zealand at 22 August 2023

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Why did so many Kiwis die in 2022?

If you want to help produce the data for your country, please contact us at research@excessdeathstats.com

On February 20th 2023, Stats NZ reported a 10% increase in deaths for 2022 compared with the previous year. 

Here are the opening paragraphs of their press release:

“The number of deaths in New Zealand rose to 38,574 in 2022, Stats NZ said today.

This was a 10 percent increase in the number of registered deaths compared with 2021, when there were 34,932 deaths registered.”

The press release does not quantify how many more deaths than usual (i.e. excess deaths) occurred in 2022 but does say the increased number of deaths was “impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic”.

It also says the spike in deaths “partly reflects our ageing population”. But this doesn’t stand up to scrutiny: a population doesn’t age dramatically in one year compared to the year before unless there has been a sudden influx of old people.

Let’s look at this data critically and ask the question: How unusual is a ten per cent increase in deaths?

Here’s a graph from 1955 to 2022 showing the excess rate of deaths above the average of the previous five years. To account for changes in population size, we’ve used the Stats NZ figures for death rates (deaths per thousand population) rather than the simple number of deaths1.

Using this approach, the death rate in 2022 is 10.6% higher than the average death rate over the five years immediately preceding the pandemic (2015-2019).

The graph can be downloaded here and the data used to create it can be downloaded here.

Before the highly anomalous year of 2022, the highest annual increase above the average rate of deaths was 4.9%, which occurred in 1980. On average, over the 67-year period, there was an annual 1.4% decrease in the death rate.

So, how many excess deaths were there in NZ in 2022? Using death rate figures from Stats NZ, we calculate that 3,711 more New Zealanders died than normal in that year2. 

This means that 3,711 people died prematurely. We owe it to their families and friends to ask why.

There’s more to it than covid

In its press release, Stats NZ noted that “just under 2400” deaths had been categorised by the Ministry of Health NZ as attributable to covid. But the Ministry defines ‘attributable’ in a way that includes deaths where covid was merely a contributory factor.3 

We believe that the correct approach in measuring the impact of covid on excess deaths is to count only those deaths where covid was the underlying cause. The NZ Ministry of Health only began reporting these numbers on the 16th March 2022. 

Furthermore, the Ministry counts covid deaths cumulatively from the start of the pandemic, so it’s difficult to know the number of underlying covid deaths that occurred in 2022. 

We have asked the Ministry for this number for 2022, but, until we hear from them, we have made our own estimate – that there were 1742 deaths where covid was the underlying cause in 20224. 

Now, would all these covid deaths have been ‘excess deaths’ – in other words deaths that would not have occurred in 2022 anyway? Well, this is highly unlikely, because covid predominantly kills frail elderly people with multiple comorbidities.

But let’s be conservative and assume all these 1742 deaths were indeed ‘excess’ deaths. This means the underlying cause of more than half of the excess deaths was something other than covid.

It’s also important that we don’t write off these 1742 deaths from covid as being inevitable. Remember the promise that the covid injections would protect us from severe illness and death? How many of these 1742 New Zealanders were vaccinated and, if there were any, why did the vaccinations fail to protect them? 

The government owes Kiwis complete transparency about the vaccination status of every single death from covid in NZ. We call on them to provide this data.

Imagine if these extra deaths had been caused by plane crashes!

As well as the extra deaths from covid, the Stats NZ data makes clear that at least an extra 1,969 New Zealanders died from something else in 2022.

That’s about the equivalent of an Airbus 320 – used for domestic flights in NZ – crashing every month of the year with the loss of everyone on board (171 passengers plus staff)! 

And the total excess deaths of 3,711 equates to a crash every two and a half weeks.

Why did these people die? This question needs to be answered urgently.

If the cause had been plane crashes, none of us would be catching a flight.

But the cause(s) have not yet been examined. Few people are even aware that there are so many more deaths than usual. This means we are living (and sadly, some Kiwis are dying) as if blindfolded, simply accepting that it’s OK not to know.

It’s not OK!

In 2020 and 2021, 41 people (at most) died with covid as the underlying cause, and each covid death was headline news.

But now our latest statistical information suggests that on average more than that number of New Zealanders died every week in 2022 without proper explanation.

Where is the headline news on that?

We ask you please to take action to spread the word about the excess deaths occurring in NZ and around the world. You could deliver our flyers, share the square ‘tiles’ on social media, write to your MP, or simply talk to your friends and family about it.

Was Dr Ashley Bloomfield’s claim correct?

On 25th March 2023, the former Director General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield told RNZ that by the end of 2022, New Zealand had accumulated fewer deaths than normal over the pandemic – in other words, there were negative excess deaths. 

“What we found in Aotearoa – in 2020, 2021 – we had less deaths than you would have predicted based on the previous years. And whilst once the Omicron variant came along, yes, we did see Covid-related deaths, the numbers have climbed. Still, if you look over those three years, cumulatively, we’re still not back at the level, the number, you would have expected.

“That is unique, virtually unique around the world,” he said.

We disagree. Of course, because of its small population, strict border closures, geographical isolation and being an island, the main impact of covid hit NZ in 2022 – much later than many other countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas. 

But when we use Stats NZ’s own death rate and population figures to calculate the numbers of excess deaths over the pandemic years of 2020 to the end of 2022 (compared to the five pre-pandemic years) we get the following figures5: 

 

Year

Excess deaths

2020

-2014

2021

123

2022

3711

Total

1820

 

In other words, far from having fewer deaths than expected, we calculate that 1,820 more New Zealanders died than normal during the pandemic years up to the end of 2022.

So how did Dr Bloomfield make his claim of fewer deaths during the three pandemic years than normal? Well, it all depends on the choice of what would be the ‘normal’ number of deaths expected over those three years.

Retired engineer, Terry Anderson, who is a volunteer for this project, has signed an affidavit as an expert witness for an NZ court case, in which he examined this issue of cumulative excess deaths over the pandemic. 

Terry shows how the method used to predict ‘normal’ levels of deaths affects the calculation of excess deaths in the pandemic.

He believes that the Ministry of Health cherry-picked the approach used. 

Furthermore, he says they selected a method that was fundamentally flawed, because it overestimated the number of expected deaths for a variety of reasons, including assuming immigration would continue as normal (despite borders being closed!) 

“They have selected a method that gives a flattering result for cumulative excess mortality in New Zealand”, Terry says. When the Ministry of Health compared the actual numbers of deaths over the pandemic with their inflated expectation of normal deaths, it made their pandemic management look good.

Thank you to volunteers Anita and Terry for their expert navigation of the Stats NZ and Ministry of Health websites and for providing the intimate local knowledge and background that enabled the creation of this page. Thank you also to volunteer, Kathy Brinkman, for her work on images, social media tiles and flyers.

If you want to help produce the data for your country, please contact us at research@excessdeathstats.com

Notes 

1 More detail about the graph: 

In general, the blue line shows the percentage excess death rate for a year calculated by comparing that year’s death rate with a five-year average. 

If the blue line is above zero it means the death rate was higher in that year than the average of the previous five years. Conversely, when the blue line goes below zero it means the death rate that year was lower than the average over the preceding five years.

The death rates used to calculate the blue line are ‘crude death rates’ obtained using Stats NZ’s Infoshare tool (DMM, for the total population for calendar years ending December, for 1950 to 2022 on 2nd July 2023) and are measured in deaths per thousand of the population. 

For 1955-2019, to calculate excess deaths in any year the death rate in that year is compared with the average of the death rates for the five preceding years (the ‘baseline comparator’). Because we expect death rates to have been abnormal during the covid pandemic, we have not included pandemic years (2020-2022) in our baseline comparators. Hence, we have compared death rates in a pandemic year (2020, 2021 and 2022) with the average of death rates in the five years from 2015-2019 – a period that can be regarded as ‘normal’.

2 How we calculated 3,711 excess deaths

The calculation is given in the downloadable spreadsheet (look just below the graph)

3 ‘Contributory’ vs ‘underlying’ covid deaths

We are assuming that when the Ministry of Health categorises covid as being ‘contributory’ to a death or as being the ‘underlying’ cause of death the Ministry is using data from, respectively, Part 2 and Part 1 of Health New Zealand’s Medical Certificate of Cause of Death  (Form HP4720). 

Here are what we believe are the definitions implied in the instructions for completing the HP4720.

  • Direct cause of death (Part 1 of the certificate): “[T]he disease or condition that occurred as the last part of the sequence of events or conditions leading directly to death”.
  • Underlying cause of death (Part 1 of the certificate): “[T]hat antecedent condition, which was the starting point in the chain of related events leading to the direct cause of death”.
  • Contributory cause of death (Part 2 of the certificate): “[O]ther conditions not directly related to the cause of death, but which have contributed to or have had an adverse effect on the conditions entered in Part 1 of the certificate.

 

We have asked the Ministry if our assumptions are correct.

By focussing on ‘deaths attributable to covid’ – in other words, the sum of underlying covid deaths and deaths where covid was considered ‘contributory’ – we believe that covid deaths are over-emphasised and the true underlying cause of those deaths in which covid was merely a contributor, is being under-emphasised. 

4Calculation of covid underlying deaths

We know that 1469 people were classified as having died with covid as the underlying cause by 2nd January 2023 from the COVID-19: Case Demographics Report of 4th January 2023. We also know that by 16th March 2022 (the first time underlying deaths were reported) only 41 people had died with covid as the underlying cause. It’s unclear how many of these 41 people died in earlier years and how many died in 2022 (we have asked the Ministry for clarification). So, let’s be conservative and assume all 1469 people died from covid in 2022. 

Furthermore, let’s add on a further 273 underlying covid deaths because some of the 618 covid-positive deaths that had not yet been categorised in the 4th January 2023 report will have had covid as the underlying cause of death. We calculated the number 273 by looking at the most recent Ministry of Health COVID-19: Current Cases report available (3rd July 2023) and noting that 1971 people were classified as dying with covid as the underlying cause out of a total of 4462 (4626-164 ‘unavailable’) categorised deaths with covid – hence 44.2% of the uncategorised deaths have been assumed to be underlying deaths. That gives a total estimate of 1469+273=1742 people dying with covid as the underlying cause in 2022.

This calculation is also available in the downloadable spreadsheet (look just below the graph)

5 Our calculation of the cumulative excess deaths over the pandemic

The calculation is given in the downloadable spreadsheet (look just below the graph)

Data Sources:

The data behind the graph and calculations were obtained from the following sources:

https://www.stats.govt.nz/news/deaths-increase-by-ten-percent-in-2022/ Accessed 2nd July 2023

https://web.archive.org/web/20220316045831/https:/www.health.govt.nz/covid-19-novel-coronavirus/covid-19-data-and-statistics/covid-19-case-demographics   Accessed 2nd July 2023

https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/486666/negative-excess-mortality-sign-nz-got-it-right-with-covid-19-response-sir-ashley-bloomfield/ Accessed 2nd July 2020

https://infoshare.stats.govt.nz/  

To obtain death rates from Infoshare: Select in order: Population, Death Rates DMM, Crude death rates (Maori and total population) (Annual – Dec), Total population, Years 1950-2022  Accessed 2nd July 2023.

To obtain 2022 population from Infoshare: Select in order: Population, Population estimates – DPE, Estimated Resident Population by Age and Sex (1991+)(Annual-Dec), Mean year ended, Total, Total All Ages, 2022

https://www.tewhatuora.govt.nz/for-the-health-sector/health-sector-guidance/burial-and-cremation-act-1964/completing-death-documents/medical-certificate-of-cause-of-death  Accessed 7th July 2023

https://web.archive.org/web/20230106043035/https:/www.health.govt.nz/covid-19-novel-coronavirus/covid-19-data-and-statistics/covid-19-current-cases    Accessed 2nd July 2023

https://web.archive.org/web/20220316045831/https:/www.health.govt.nz/covid-19-novel-coronavirus/covid-19-data-and-statistics/covid-19-case-demographics Accessed 2nd July 2023

https://web.archive.org/web/20230703083741/https://www.health.govt.nz/covid-19-novel-coronavirus/covid-19-data-and-statistics/covid-19-current-cases   Accessed 5th July 2023