The ONS announced on Monday that there were 40,467 deaths registered in England in July, which is 4.8% more than in June, and 7.6% more than the five-year average. In fact, the number of deaths registered in England was above the five-year average in all four weeks of last month.

These increases make sense, given that there has been a small uptick in COVID-19 deaths associated with the ‘Delta wave’. Although COVID-19 was only the ninth leading cause of death in July, deaths from the first eight causes were all below their five-year averages.

However, because the English population is ageing, the absolute number of people at risk of dying each year is going up. You’d therefore expect to see a greater number of deaths each year, even without a pandemic. What’s more, people who die from COVID-19 tend to be slightly older than those dying of other causes, so the average COVID-19 death is associated with fewer life-years lost.

For these reasons, it’s more informative to track age-adjusted measures of mortality. In July, the age-standardised mortality rate was only 1.3% higher than in May, and was approximately equal to the five-year average. (The exact figure was marginally higher, but the percentage difference was only 0.4%.)

This chart from the ONS shows the age-standardised mortality rate for the first seven months of the year, each year, going back to 2001:

Although 2021’s figure was higher than the figure for 2019, it was 3.6% lower than the figure for 2015 and 2.0% lower than the figure for 2018. This means that – despite higher-than-expected mortality in the winter – the overall level of mortality in the first seven months of 2021 was still lower than three years before.

As a matter of fact, the age-standardised rate from January through July was only 0.8% higher than the five-year average. Another month without many excess deaths and 2021 will officially be an ‘average year’ for English mortality.