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Ottawa, Jun 20 (Canadian-Media): The number of Canadians dying from all causes during the COVID-19 pandemic revealed that British Columbia (B.C.), Alberta and Quebec suffered more than 2,200 excess deaths when compared to five-year historical maximums, according to an updated Statistics Canada (StatsCan) report released June 19, media reports said.
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Based in Ottawa, Statistics Canada is the national statistical office responsible for providing Canadians key information on Canada's economy, society, and environment that they require to function effectively as citizens and help in informed decision-making.
StatsCan defines excess deaths as the number of deaths that are more than expected during a specific period of time when considering past trends.
The first 18 weeks of 2020, ending May 2 for 11 provinces and territories are covered in StatsCan's June 19 reports.
Although Ontario was the second-hardest hit province behind Quebec, with more than 2,600 COVID-19 related deaths, it was excluded from the report as it did not provide relevant mortality deaths during that period, including COVID-19.
Statistics Canada says that's partly because death registration is still "a paper-based process" in eight of the 13 provinces and territories, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, including Ontario.
Yukon was not included in the report either, because it also had not provided any death statistics since 2017.
Updated StatCan analysis says that there was a lack of evidence of excess mortality over the first 18 weeks of 2020 for 8 of the 11 reporting provinces and territories.
“That is to say that the number of reported weekly deaths, in those jurisdictions, is within the range of previous annual figures,” StatCan stated.
Three things stood out in StatCan’s May interim report: a gaping data hole left by Ontario’s exclusion; British Columbia and Alberta' s the pandemic results were larger than first acknowledged, and COVID-19’s potential death toll hidden due to the preliminary nature of the data StatCan had to work with.
The most recent official StatCan mortality statistics are from 2018.
B.C recorded 372 more deaths than in any of the previous five years for those same weeks between March 15 and April 25, with only 99 COVID-19 related deaths.
Albert also followed a similar trend by recording consistently higher death counts of 402 than the historical baseline for seven weeks, but only 40 deaths were coronavirus-related.
The excess deaths applied to both sexes and appeared to "disproportionately affect those over the age of 85," said the report.
Similar studies, conducted in countries such as the U.S. and U.K. have also revealed hundreds and sometimes thousands of excess deaths amid the pandemic.
Although statistics on COVID-19 deaths are updated daily, Statistics Canada takes up to a year to gather data about other causes of death.
Prabhat Jha, professor of epidemiology at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. says it is crucial for Canada to understand these excess deaths before a second wave of the pandemic, but Canada's archaic and decentralized data collection process prohibits appropriate answers.
"The whole of Canada and the provinces should really move to get a real-time system. In the U.K., the data are released every two weeks, including the cause of death information so you can get into these details," he said.
Jha said he was also concerned about the discrepancy shown in the StatisticsCanada reports
For example, Statistics Canada's death count for Quebec, the hardest hit province by the pandemic was 25,185 in the first four months of 2020, which is a lot less than the 28,140 the provincial statistics agency compiled
Jha added that Quebec's provincial data is more reliable.
"Quebec data are the ones that I think are the most robust because they release them directly and they seem to show that almost all of the excess seems to be accounted for by COVID," he said.