Deaths levels in Northern Ireland more than 17 per cent higher during Covid-19 period

Total of 885 excess deaths are reported during four months to end of June

Travellers pass Covid-19 signage at Belfast International Airport. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

The latest statistics show there were 885 excess deaths reported in Northern Ireland for the four-month period up to the end of June – which closely corresponds with the 837 coronavirus deaths recorded over the same period.

The figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) from March 1st to June 30th illustrate the number of deaths in the North were 17.4 per cent above expected levels when taking in death number over the last five years.

The number of excess deaths for women (474) is higher than that for men (411), while 421 women died from Covid-19-related illness compared to 416 men.

Although coronavirus is known to affect more men than women, this apparent anomaly is explained by the fact that women live longer that men and most of the coronavirus deaths impact on the elderly.


Nisra said that, based on the statistics, proportionally more men than women die from Covid-19.

The vast majority of excess deaths (78.4 per cent) and Covid-19-related deaths (79.8 per cent) are accounted for by those aged 75 and over. In this age group, excess deaths were 21.3 per cent above expected levels, compared to 17.4 per cent for all ages.

Nisra also reported that, against the general expectation, excess deaths were highest in the least deprived areas, with just over a 20 per cent increase in deaths in this group compared to expected levels.

Nisra said that there is not a “clear pattern in these figures” but that it appears to be explained by the fact that more older people, who suffer most from the virus, live in the better-off areas and that there are more care homes in these least deprived areas.

Nisra reported that “one striking finding is the negative excess deaths in hospitals, with the total number of hospital deaths from March to June lower than the five-year average, despite the 434 Covid-19 related deaths” in hospitals.

It said it appeared the virus “may have displaced a sizeable number of non-Covid-19 related deaths that could have been expected to occur in hospitals”.

Care homes had similar levels of excess deaths (336) and Covid-19-related deaths (346). “In contrast, excess deaths at home (556) is more than twelve-fold the number of Covid-19 related deaths at home (44) and account for 62.8 per cent of excess deaths over the period,” Nisra reported.

“There could be a number of reasons for this, for example, hospitals retaining capacity for Covid-19 patients, but also hospital restrictions on visitors could have led to patients deciding to receive palliative care at home, supported by their families,” it added.

The 95 excess deaths for the age group 55-64 years was more than double that of the 40 Covid-19 related deaths in this age group suggesting, according to Nisra, “that direct effects of the pandemic could account for less than half of the impact on excess mortality in this age group”.

It said that further analysis would be needed on this particular category and finding once more information was available about cause of death.

The Belfast City Council area had the largest number of excess deaths (218), accounting for a quarter (24.6 per cent) of the total number of excess deaths in Northern Ireland.

However, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council had the highest excess deaths relative to the expected level of deaths. Its excess death rate was 28.4 per cent above expected levels, while Mid Ulster Council had the lowest excess rate (7 per cent).

Excess deaths were lower in rural areas at 14.3 per cent above expected levels, compared to 18.7 per cent in urban areas.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times