Global Covid-19 death toll a ‘significant undercount’, WHO says, with 6-to-8 million people likely dead from virus

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The number of people who have died due to Covid-19 is likely to have been hugely underestimated and the true toll may be much higher, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.

The total death toll is likely to be higher than that officially reported, Dr Samira Asma, the UN agency’s Assistant Director-General for data and analytics, told a virtual briefing on Friday as she discussed its newly published annual World Health Statistics report.

This number would truly be two to three times higher. So I think safely about 6 to 8 million deaths could be an estimate on a cautionary note.

Official WHO data has currently recorded more than 164 million cases of Covid-19 and 3.4 million deaths.

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However, in its report on Friday the agency said data from Europe and the Americas region suggested the total number of deaths from the pandemic in 2020 alone was over 3 million.

This figure adds an extra 1.2 million fatalities to last year’s reported death toll, the WHO said.

“Available evidence from the countries with rapid mortality surveillance systems suggests that in many locations the reported number of Covid-19 deaths is a significant undercount of the full toll of the pandemic,” the report read.

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WHO data analyst William Msemburi told reporters that the report had looked at the excess mortality of 2020 – the difference between the total number of deaths in the pandemic and those in a typical year.

He said the 6-to-8 million figure included Covid-19 deaths of people who were not tested for the virus, as well as incidental fatalities due to reduced hospital capacity and other issues.

The report also stressed the need for more data collection and modelling and pointed out that the health responses of governments led to “a number of deaths being averted.”

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