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EU excess deaths back to pre-pandemic levels

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For the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were no excess deaths in the EU, according to data from February. 

While the figure is an average across all EU countries and there is no guarantee that it won’t rise again, the return to pre-pandemic level marks a significant moment as countries debate whether COVID-19 should still be considered an ongoing pandemic. 

Excess mortality figures have been an essential tool to understand how many additional people were dying above the levels that would have been seen under ‘normal’ situations. The statistic takes the number of people who died from any cause during a particular period and compares it with figures from previous years when there wasn’t a COVID-19 pandemic.

In February, two-thirds of EU countries recorded no excess deaths, according to data from Eurostat, compared with the average over the same period in 2016-2019. However, several countries did see excess mortality, including Greece, Cyprus, Portugal, the Netherlands and France. At its worst levels in November 2020, the EU saw excess deaths at 40 percent above its baseline. 

The data comes as the World Health Organization — the body that classifies whether COVID-19 is still a public health emergency of international concern — increasingly indicates that the end of the public health emergency is imminent. In March, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was “confident” that this year COVID-19 would no longer be classified as such.

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