National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

COVID-19 impacts seasonal mortality

COVID-19 impacts seasonal mortality

Tuesday, 13 Oct 2020
Demography News Release Image

Fewer deaths were registered in winter 2019/20, compared with the four months between April to July 2020, for the first time since records began, according to statistics published by National Records of Scotland today.

From December 2019 to March 2020, 21,392 deaths were registered in Scotland, the third highest number of winter deaths in the past 20 years. In contrast from April to July 2020, 22,711 deaths were registered. This resulted in a low seasonal increase, caused by the unusually high number of deaths registered in Spring 2020 as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Without the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the seasonal increase in mortality in winter 2019/20 is estimated to have been between 2,200 and 3,000, which is much more in line with previous winters.

The main underlying causes for which death rates were higher in winter 2019/20 than the average for other times of the year were: dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, chronic lower respiratory diseases, pneumonia and coronary heart disease. 

Pete Whitehouse, Director of Statistical Services at NRS said:

“The seasonal increase in mortality can fluctuate greatly from winter to winter, but the long-term trend has tended to be downward. We normally see an increase in the number of deaths registered in winter, compared to any other time of year.

“This year's figures are unusual because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and for the first time more deaths have been registered in April to July than in winter. 

“Looking at the winter mortality figures, we see that only a small number of deaths are directly related to cold weather, for example hypothermia. Similarly influenza is recorded as the underlying cause in only a small proportion of deaths. The majority of the additional deaths in winter are as a result of dementia and Alzheimer’s and respiratory and circulatory diseases.”

The full publication ‘Winter Mortality in Scotland 2019/20’ and an infographic are available on this website.