The real death toll from coronavirus cannot be determined

Official statistics report that the number of coronavirus victims exceeds 3.5 million. However, experts say their true number is still unknown.

This is due to the enormous pressure on health systems, as well as unreported and hidden deaths. It is possible that the actual number of deaths will never be known. According to the recently published WHO estimates, the pandemic, directly or indirectly, took the lives of 6-8 million people, which is 2-2.5 times more than the official figure of 3.5 million people.

More detailed calculations are even more difficult to make. According to the Athens News Agency, IHME, the Seattle Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, cites at least 6.9 million deaths worldwide due to Covid. The death toll in the United States is estimated at 912,000.

According to the study, the discrepancies with official data at the beginning of May 2021 look like this: in the United States there were 912,000 deaths (578,000 according to official data), in Mexico 621,000 (219,000 officially), in Brazil 616,000 (423,000), in Russia 600,000 (according to official figures 111,000).

The underestimation of the death toll, as IHME head Chris Murray explains, is sometimes associated with a limited number of diagnostic tests, such as in India or Mexico. However, he stressed:

Regardless of the reasons, “these huge adjustments to official numbers are critical to understanding where the pandemic has had the greatest impact and determining whether government policies have softened.”

However, not all scientists agree with the IHME’s findings based on sharded data. Virginia Commonwealth University staff member Stephen Wolfe disputes these findings:

This model is based on a series of hypotheses that may be valid globally but cannot be applied to countries individually. The 900,000 exaggerated deaths make sense, but not all additional deaths are directly related to the virus.

To estimate the true scale of the epidemic that has hit the world, researchers first look at the reported increased mortality in relation to the number of deaths that are considered expected (based on data from previous years). As demographer Stephen Helleringer at New York University in Abu Dhabi says, “We must separate the direct and indirect effects of Covid.”

Indirect factors can be considered: a decrease in the number of accidents, overcrowding of medical institutions, a decrease in air pollution, etc. However, data from the poorest countries are lacking for complex calculations. According to the expert, it is impossible to calculate the increased mortality in reality, which is essential for an equitable distribution of resources, especially vaccines. The expert notes:

If all experts agree that the death toll is an underestimate, the question is to what extent.

A study published in the BMJ estimates that in just 29 rich countries, more than 1 million deaths are caused by excessive deaths in 2020, a 31% higher than the official death toll from Covid-19. However, this data does not allow drawing conclusions for other parts of the world, experts warn. Scientists continue to search for answers that are critical to determining the true scale of the pandemic and learning lessons from its management.

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