0420 GMT June 21, 2021
Presenting its annual World Health Statistics report, the WHO estimated that total deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 were at least 3 million last year or 1.2 million more than officially reported, according to Reuters.
“We are likely facing a significant undercount of total deaths directly and indirectly attributed to COVID-19,” it said.
The UN agency officially estimates that around 3.4 million people have died directly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic by May 2021.
“…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,” said Samira Asma, WHO’s assistant director-general in its data and analytics division at a virtual press briefing.
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 said.
WHO data analyst William Msemburi said that this estimate included both unreported COVID-19 deaths as well as indirect deaths due to the lack of hospital capacity and restrictions on movements among other factors.
“The challenge is that the reported COVID-19 [death toll figures] is an undercount of that full impact,” Msemburi said.
“Excess mortality gives us a better picture, because it captures both of these direct and indirect effects,” he said.
The discrepancy is due to several 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.