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Early COVID fatalities ‘probably not accounted for’

The Actuaries Institute believes some COVID-19 deaths from the first wave of the pandemic may not have been accounted for because testing for the virus was not widespread at that time.

A paper released last week by the institute highlights an above-trend jump in deaths from pneumonia, stroke and diabetes in March and April. The two months marked the first wave of COVID-19 in the country.

Deaths from dementia during the two months were also higher than usual, according to the paper, which is based on the institute’s analysis of certified deaths compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The institute says the under-counting of COVID fatalities is not isolated to Australia, pointing out other countries have also had similar experiences.

The paper says in the week ending March 24, the number of deaths from all causes exceeded normal trends by about 100. In the last week of March and first seven days of April, there were about 200 more deaths than usual.

Up until March 17 deaths from influenza and pneumonia were within a reasonable range of predicted numbers but there was a noticeable spike thereafter.

“While we cannot be definitive, we expect that more people probably died because of COVID-19 during the first wave of cases in March and April than was reported at the time,” the paper says.

“Some of the extra deaths were probably reported as pneumonia, diabetes and possibly stroke, as deaths from these causes were higher than expected during that period and all of these causes of death are related to COVID-19 in some way.”

More than 800 people in Australia have died after contracting COVID-19.

Jennifer Lang, Convener of the institute’s COVID-19 Working Group, says the classification of deaths as COVID-19 or non-COVID deaths would not have affected general or life insurers.

“Most insurance policies do not distinguish between cause of death, particularly non-accidental death,” she told “Whether they were COVID-19 deaths or not, they would still be counted as deaths and insurers would still pay out if there was a policy.”