A Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) research group revealed on Sept. 30 that the total numbers of “excess deaths” in each prefecture between January and June 2020 are estimated to be fewer than the totals for the past three years. “Excess death” is the number of deaths that exceeds the number for an average year. The number of deaths in Japan has increased with the aging population. Excess deaths in the first six months of 2017, 2018, and 2019 were at most 20,000. There were at most 7,467 excess deaths in the first half of 2020.
There were 647 and 426 excess deaths in Tokyo and Osaka, respectively. Both are areas where there were large increases in COVID-19 cases. There were 13 prefectures where the number of deaths between January and June 2020 exceeded the number of deaths in the average year.
The largest number of excess deaths above average was in April, at 4,216. There were fewer deaths nationwide than in the past three years. Many prefectures saw fewer deaths than in the average year.
The cause of death cannot be gathered from the bulletins of vital statistics, which are used for the MHLW estimates. Motoi Suzuki, Director of the Infectious Disease Surveillance Center at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases and a member of the research group, says that he expects to see fewer people with influenza this year. According to Suzuki, the “effect of COVID-19 countermeasures may cause a decrease in other infectious diseases,” and “the number of excess deaths from COVID-19 in Japan is not as high as in other countries.”
The number of deaths in 2019 was about 1.39 million, an increase of 19,000 from the previous year. According to the MHLW vital statistic bulletins, the number of deaths in the first six months of 2019 was about 707,000, but the figure for the same period in 2020 was about 690,000. The downward trend continued in July 2020. Although the number of deaths in Japan has increased with the aging population, the total number of deaths in 2020 may be about 30,000 fewer than the previous year if the downward trend continues. (Slightly abridged)