Japan had excess deaths of up to 113,000 in 2022, more than double the figure of up to 50,000 the year before, according to newly released health ministry statistics, indicating the possibility that COVID-19 directly and indirectly contributed to an increase in the country's mortality rate.

According to estimates compiled by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, the number of excess deaths — defined as the difference between the observed numbers of deaths in a certain period and expected numbers of deaths in the same period — was between 47,330 and 113,399 in 2022, compared with 11,475 to 50,495 in 2021.

NIID Director Takaji Wakita, who chairs the health ministry’s coronavirus advisory board, told reporters Wednesday that the increase in such deaths may be linked to the spread of the omicron variant of the virus, which drove record levels of COVID-19 infections and deaths in Japan last year.

Omicron, while believed to be less pathogenic than previous variants of the coronavirus, hit older people in Japan particularly hard last year. Doctors have reported many cases of elderly people dying from aspiration pneumonia, which is caused by a lung infection connected to weakened ability to eat and swallowing difficulties such as dysphagia.

“We have seen an increase in the number of deaths in respiratory diseases and senility,” Wakita said. “This may have been influenced by the spread of the omicron variant. We need further analysis on this.”

Globally, the World Health Organization estimates 14.83 million excess deaths for 2021 and 2022 combined — 2.74 times more deaths than the 5.42 million reported as being caused by COVID-19.