No sooner had I asked my new data analyst to get up to date death rate data, I see this article: Farah Hancock at newsroom.co.nz has an excellent piece on expected death rates versus actual death rates for recent weeks for New Zealand. Hancock takes the data trends reporting from northern hemisphere countries and sought the same information here:
"Overall, there have been 129 more deaths this year between January 1 and April 29. Nineteen of those are attributed to Covid-19. As in previous years, weekly fluctuations are seeing the 2020 line both dropping and rising above the historical average calculated on weekly deaths each year from 2015 to 2019."
It should be noted that Statistics NZ show the moving average (see link to full article below) as:
"After smoothing the fluctuations out by averaging them against the week either side, he said numbers have trended down a little."
That's good - ideally it shows that we are probably counting our COVID-19 deaths accurately - which is surely easier to do when they number in tens not thousands, another benefit of the approach taken to managing the pandemic here. It is a data set we will now continue to keep an eye on as COVID-19 is not the only factor - as highlighted in the UK there are concerns that consumers may not be using health services as much as they should due to concern that they do not wish to put more pressure on services that may need to be used by others, or fears that they could catch COVID-19. That risk is now very low. Insurers and advisers can encourage clients to seek early diagnosis and to keep up appointments for treatment. In the UK, for example, significant numbers of chemotherapy appointments are being missed. Links to those articles are in this post below. We need to avoid that situation here in order to prevent knock on effects such as increasing cancer deaths.
Hancock also refers to The Ministry of Health statement that there had not been a surge in suicide deaths after an online troll had asserted a large rise. As the MOH put it in their release:
“The Covid-19 response may have significant, long-term effects on people’s lives BUT it is not inevitable that there will be a significant increase in serious mental health issues or suicides.”
“Suicide numbers may increase as a result of the Covid-19 response and they may decrease. Data from previous international crises have shown both outcomes ... Every life matters; it’s vital we focus on preserving life rather than speculating about the likelihood of ending it."
This is a great message. Life insurance is a grim business, of course, as regrettably we are required to consider what impact events will have on future claims, especially when being asked for updated forecasts by shareholders and regulators interested to understand resilience in the face of claims increases. We know, for example, that income protection claims tend to last longer during recessions. Recessions tend to worsen mental health problems and New Zealand has a poor record on suicide prevention. Some of the likely claims impacts are explored at a high level in this post below. This is also an opportunity for insurers and financial advisers to contribute to a wider community message on prevention and management of mental health issues. Subscribers to the quarterly market data report will see death rate reporting in that for at least the next few quarters.