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COVID-19, the 38th Leading Cause of Death in Australia in 2020

A total of 898 Australians died from the respiratory infection caused by the coronavirus last year, with a median age at death of 86 years, four years above the nation’s average life expectancy.


COVID-19 was the 38th leading cause of death in Australia in 2020, according to figures provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

A total of 898 Australians died from the respiratory infection caused by the coronavirus last year, with a median age at death of 86 years, four years above the nation’s average life expectancy.

The report, published on the ABS website last month, reveals that dementia was the most common pre-existing condition in COVID-19 deaths, accounting for 275 deaths in total, while chronic cardiac conditions, hypertension and diabetes were also commonly reported comorbidities.

The top five leading causes of death in 2020 remained the same as in 2019: Ischaemic heart disease; Dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease; Cerebrovascular diseases; Lung cancer; and Chronic lower respiratory diseases.

The year also saw a 23.9% decrease in the age-standardised death rate from respiratory diseases. Influenza and pneumonia mortality had the highest proportional rate decrease of all respiratory diseases with a drop of 45.8% from 2019.

Last year, influenza and pneumonia dropped to the 17th leading cause of death, down from the 9th leading cause in 2019. In 2020, just 55 people died from influenza, compared to 1,080 in the prior year. There was also a decrease of more than 20% in influenza and pneumonia as an associated cause of death, where it was not the underlying cause of death.

The decrease in the respiratory disease death rate from 2019 is the largest recorded over the last ten years.

Suicide was the 15th leading cause of death, down from 13th the prior year, with 3,139 deaths due to suicide, compared to 3,318 suicides in 2019.

According to the ABS, while there was a 5.4% reduction in the number of suicides from 2019 to 2020, there were 99 people who died by suicide who had the COVID-19 pandemic mentioned in either a police, pathology or coronial finding report.

The report states:

For people who died by suicide and had the COVID-19 pandemic mentioned as a risk factor, it did not appear as an isolated risk. When COVID-19 was mentioned as a risk factor it manifested in different ways for individuals. For some people direct impacts from the pandemic such as job loss, lack of financial security, family and relationship preassures and not feeling comfortable with accessing health care were noted. For others, a general concern or anxiety about the pandemic and societal changes were stated or anxiety about contracting the virus itself.

There were 1,452 Australians who died of an alcohol-induced death, with 1,056 of those being male and 396, female.

The year saw an 8.3% increase in the age-standardised rate of alcohol-induced deaths, with 108 additional deaths since 2019.

The rate for females was equal to the highest in the ten-year time series at 2.8 deaths per 100,000 people (12.0% increase), while there was a 6.9% increase among males.

The full report can be viewed here, there is, however, a curious absence of any mention of abortion figures among the statistics.

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