By Satoshi Maemura
At the House of Councillors audit committee meeting on June 22, Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare Katsunobu Kato said that the ministry will examine the number of excess deaths, a figure which indicates whether the number of deaths has increased compared to the previous year. The ministry will look into all deaths, including deaths from pneumonia, in order to estimate whether there were uncounted coronavirus cases or indirect effects of the pandemic, such as restrictions on in-hospital treatment. The ministry will immediately consult experts on analytical methods.
In response to a question from Kuniyoshi Noda of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, Kato replied that patients infected with the new coronavirus may “not only have pneumonia but also may develop blood clots.” Kato said that the ministry will consult experts on whether all deaths or only deaths from pneumonia should be examined.
A Nikkei survey of deaths in April 2020 found that there were 1,056 more deaths in Tokyo compared with the average of the past four years, an increase of 11.7%. The number of excess deaths was ten times the number of deaths from the coronavirus infection, which was reported as 104.
In 11 out of 13 prefectures designated as special alert areas under the state of emergency, the number of excess deaths was above the statistical upper limit compared with the average year. There were 10% more excess deaths in seven of the 11 prefectures, far exceeding the effect of an aging population.
In Iwate Prefecture, which has reported no coronavirus cases, there were 103 more deaths than the average year, or a 7.8% increase. There may have been many cases in Iwate which were overlooked. It is possible that calls to stay home and restrictions on treatment in hospitals were indirect causes of some deaths. (Abridged)