Deaths due to pandemic up to 3 times higher than reported Covid-19 toll: WHO

Relatives perform the last rites for Covid-19 victims at a mass cremation ground in Giddenahalli, Bangalore, on May 18, 2021.
Relatives perform the last rites for Covid-19 victims at a mass cremation ground in Giddenahalli, Bangalore, on May 18, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

GENEVA (AFP) - Up to three times more people have died due to the pandemic than indicated by the officially reported Covid-19 numbers, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Friday (May 21).

So far, more than 3.4 million deaths worldwide have officially been attributed to the disease since it first surfaced in China in late 2019.

But according to a global health statistics report from the WHO, far more people have died, who would otherwise not have, either due to Covid-19 or because they could not get treatment for other ailments.

"Total deaths are at least two to three times higher than officially reported," Ms Samira Asma, WHO's assistant director-general in charge of data, told reporters.

In 2020, the report found there had been at least three million excess deaths due directly or indirectly to Covid-19, while the official number of Covid-19 deaths was 1.8 million at the end of the year.

Asked how many excess deaths could be attributed to the pandemic today, Ms Asma said:  "I think safely, about six to eight million deaths could be an estimate, with a cautionary note."

The WHO was working with countries "to understand the true human toll of the pandemic so we can be better prepared for the next emergency", she added.

The discrepancy is due to a number of factors, including lagging reporting on Covid-19 deaths in a number of countries; the fact that many people early on died of the disease without being tested; and also that many were unable to get treatment for other diseases and conditions due to lockdown measures.

"Excess mortality gives us a better picture because it captures both of these direct and indirect effects," WHO data analyst William Msemburi told reporters.