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Hungary’s Excess Mortality Surpasses 28,000 during First Three COVID-19 Waves

Péter Cseresnyés 2022.01.12.

Fifteen percent more people died in Hungary during the first three waves of the COVID-19 epidemic than would have been expected based on demographic trends of previous years, according to a recent study. The excess mortality rate for men was almost twice as high as that for women. There are also significant regional differences in the statistics, with the Central Hungarian region including the capital, being the least affected. The proportion of the elderly among those who died fell significantly as vaccines became available.

If the coronavirus epidemic had never occurred, 191,645 people would have died in Hungary between mid-March 2020 and mid-September 2021, according to calculations based on data from previous years. The devastating impact of Covid-19 is evidenced by the fact that in contrast, 220,072 people died in the given time period.

Therefore 28,427 more people died in Hungary in the first year and a half of the epidemic than would have been expected to die in the country without it and its health impact.

Fact

During this period, Hungarian authorities reported 30,123 coronavirus-related fatalities. This implies that either the coronavirus has been a lethal epidemic not only for those already in serious condition due to age or illness – or that many people died of Covid without registered as infected, or many died of other illnesses because they could not get medical help in time.

This is an increase of 15 percent, which economist-demographer Csaba G. Tóth calculated in his recently published preprint study.

A more detailed breakdown of the study is as follows:

  • The first wave of the epidemic was milder, with no major change in mortality figures.
  • During the second wave, the excess mortality was 15,200, or 29% more than in previous years
  • In the third wave, excess mortality was slightly less with 13,400 people, which is 26%. Although there were more covid deaths than during the second wave, the absence of a seasonal flu outbreak at the beginning of 2021 reduced the excess death rate significantly, by about 3,000.

In general, older age groups experienced excess mortality more than younger ones.

However, the proportion of each age group changed significantly in the third wave as compared with the second, presumably due to vaccination and the absence of the flu epidemic. Compared to autumn 2020, when 60 percent of excess deaths were related to people aged 75 and over, by spring 2021 the proportion fell to 37 percent. This was the period when the vaccination of the oldest people had already begun and the winter flu epidemic did not break out.

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Meanwhile, the share comprised of the 40–74 age group increased substantially from 39% of the total excess mortality in the second wave to 62% in the third wave.

The research also found that the excess mortality rate for men was almost twice as high as that for women in almost all age groups.

There are also significant differences by region.

In the first 18 months of COVID-19, excess mortality was highest in Northern Hungary (356 per 100,000 people). The Central Hungarian region, including the capital, had a much lower excess death rate than the rest of the country (227 per 100,000 people).

The analysis of the data for the fourth COVID-19 wave, which started in September, is not included in the study and will be released later. Since then, according to official data, the number of the epidemic’s victims has increased by 10,000 in Hungary, and by Tuesday it already exceeded 40,000.

Featured photo illustration by Zoltán Balogh/MTI