More than 450,000 excess deaths occurred in the EU between March and November 2020 compared with the same period in the years 2016 through 2019, according to new data from Eurostat.
Excess deaths are the number of additional deaths "compared with a so-called ‘baseline’ consisting of the average number of deaths for a particular month over the four years from 2016 to 2019," the EU statistics agency said.
Death tolls in EU countries began to rise in spring last year amid the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The peak of excess mortality in EU member states came in November 2020 as a deadlier second wave hit many countries.
Overall, the excess mortality in the EU was 8% above the average in September, 17% above average in October and 40% above average in November, despite having gone down between May and July as countries contained the spread of COVID-19.
In some areas of Europe, Eurostat data shows, deaths were much higher than the average mortality of previous years.
Although the data does not single out the cause in death, the excess mortality is largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has killed more than 495,000 people in EU and EEA countries through February 2021, according to the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
In EU member states, deaths began rising in March, with the percentage of additional deaths compared to previous years up 13%.
Excess mortality rose to an average of 25% above average across the 27 EU member states in April at the height of the first wave of the pandemic. But this differed greatly among member states.
Italy, which was the first European country to be hit hard by COVID-19 cases, reported deaths at 49.4% above average in March 2020.
In April 2020, Spain had 79.4% excess mortality compared to a mere 1.3% in Greece.
The second wave of the pandemic looked very different from the first across member states.
Poland was badly hit, with deaths at 97% above average in November 2020 with Bulgaria reporting a 95% increase and Slovenia a 91% increase the same month.