When I last addressed this topic in January COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations in Nova Scotia were increasing at a faster rate than a year earlier. From Dec. 2, 2023 to Jan. 6, 2024 deaths increased by 27, hospitalizations by 203. Over about the same period a year earlier deaths totalled 25, hospitalizations 165.

The question then was whether those results presented a blip or the start of a trend. With the release earlier this month of Nova Scotia’s Respiratory Watch, containing data to the end of March, it appears that the five-week period from Dec. 2 to Jan. 6 was a bit of an anomaly. Nevertheless, Nova Scotia continues to have the highest rate of increase in COVID deaths of any province. 

As the table below shows, over the four-month period from December through the end of March – the height of the respiratory illness “season” – COVID deaths and hospitalizations were down from the same period a year earlier.

Table 1: COVID-19 reported deaths and hospitalizations 






Total Deaths136106
Total Hospitalization543479

Source: NS Respiratory Watch 

Reported COVID-19 deaths from December to March 30th dropped from 136 in 2022-3 to 106 in 2023-4, with the biggest decline occurring in the final three weeks of January. Hospitalizations also fell, but by only 11.8 percent, compared with a decline of 22.1 per cent in deaths. 

However, the latest weekly report, covering March 31 to April 6, shows an additional six deaths, bringing the COVID-19 toll to 189 since seasonal counting  started on Aug. 27, 2023. Of those 189 deaths, almost 95 percent (179) were people aged 65 and over. We seniors also accounted for 83 percent of hospitalizations and 62 percent of admissions to Intensive Care. As well, there have been about 125 long term care facility outbreaks declared since last August.

Respiratory Watch has also been tracking influenza cases, hospitalizations and deaths. At 62 for the season, deaths were just one-third those reported for COVID-19 and flu was less severe among people 65 and over – 89 percent of flu deaths and only 53 percent of hospital admissions for flu involved Nova Scotians 65 and over.

Worse than other Provinces

Even though COVID-19 deaths are down from the same period last year, Nova Scotia continues to have the highest rate of increase so far in 2024 among provinces reporting data to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). According to figures released  last week, as of March 30, Nova Scotia had reported 1,053 deaths since the pandemic began four years ago, an increase of 92 since Jan. 1. 

That’s a jump of nearly 10 percent so far in 2024. Because Saskatchewan and Manitoba seem to have stopped reporting COVID deaths to PHAC, it’s not possible to estimate a national average. However, with an increase of 9.57 percent so far in 2024, Nova Scotia is more than three times higher than the lowest reporting provinces – Alberta and Ontario.

Table 2: Increase in COVID-19 deaths by reporting provinces Quarter 1 2024

ProvinceJan. 1March 30IncreaseIncrease%
Nova Scotia9611,053929.57%
New Brunswick9721,024525.35%

   Source: Public Health Agency 

It should be noted that despite the recent surge, deaths per capita from COVID-19 in Nova Scotia remain among the lowest in the country since the pandemic began in 2020, with only the Territories, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador lower. But at the same time, Nova Scotia’s faster rate of increase so far this year is the continuation of a trend that has been happening since public health measures were relaxed in 2022. 

Given that Nova Scotia had only about 110 deaths during the first two years of the pandemic, a significant percentage increase in 2022 was largely the result of Nova Scotia catching up to the rest of the country when the effects of the Omicron variant caused a surge in cases across the country. Pre-Omicron the numbers in Nova Scotia were very low, so the impact of that new variant, even if no worse here than elsewhere, would cause a much greater percentage increase. 

However, since the beginning of 2023, COVID-19 deaths in Nova Scotia have continued to go up dramatically – from 589 in January 2023 to 1,053 at the end of March, 2024. That’s an increase of 78.8 percent. Over that same period – and with the caveat that national numbers do not include recent months from Manitoba and Saskatchewan – the national increase has been from 50,072 to 58,560, or 17.0 percent. 

The other Atlantic provinces with low death rates from the initial waves of COVID-19 also experienced sharp increases in 2022 because of Omicron. Newfoundland and Labrador, for example, experienced a nine-fold increase in deaths in 2022. However, since the beginning of 2023, both Newfoundland and New Brunswick have seen increases of only about 25 percent, with Prince Edward Island’s rise of 72.2 percent the only Province anywhere close to Nova Scotia’s 78.8 percent increase.

There may be a good explanation for Nova Scotia’s significantly higher death rate over the past 15 months. As the example of Saskatchewan and Manitoba suggests, it may simply be that Nova Scotia has been more diligent in reporting data to the federal health agency – which would mean that Canada’s death count is significantly under-reported. But we can only speculate since official and media silence on the subject has everywhere become near total.