Worldwide, the number of corona deaths is much higher than has been reported so far. Some authoritarian regimes deliberately keep numbers low, or simply register poorly. As a result, the exact numbers are unknown.
The total death toll is at least 5.9 million, up from the 4.2 million reported by the World Health Organization so far. This is what the researcher’s Ariel Karlinsky from Israel and Dmitry Kobak from Germany calculated. They published their findings in the scientific journal eLife. For this study, they compared global data on excess mortality with the number of reported corona deaths. In some countries, there are huge differences between those two numbers.
“With this research, we know what the difference is between the mortality that you would expect in a normal year and the mortality during corona,” says Marino van Zelst, PhD student in organizational sciences at Tilburg. That gap can largely be explained by people who have died from corona, but it is impossible to draw that conclusion. “Excess mortality is a good measure to draw a comparison and see where the extremes are, but you have to be careful with it.” Van Zelst emphasizes that in some countries there is actually under-mortality. “In a normal year, you also have people who die from the flu virus. That has almost completely disappeared this year.” There were also fewer road deaths in some countries, for example.
One of the countries where the difference between the number of reported corona deaths and the excess mortality is very high is Russia. Four and a half times as many people died there during corona than usual. “From the start of the pandemic, there have been very serious doubts about the reliability of the corona figures disclosed by the Russian authorities,” said Russia correspondent Eva Hartog. Part of the huge difference has to do with the lack of diagnosis. “People who die from a secondary disease such as cardiac arrest or even lung failure are not tested and therefore remain outside the corona statistics.”
But according to Hartog, it is mainly due to the lack of political will. “Moscow is shifting the responsibility to local politicians, who in turn put pressure on healthcare.”
Another factor is that many Russians do not want to be tested. “In the province, a test is difficult to get and you have to wait a long time for the results. People are also afraid that a positive test will cause difficulties. For example, they must be quarantined for a long period without being compensated by their employer. ”
The researchers analyzed a total of data from 103 countries. A large part of the countries in Asia and Africa has not been included, because the data is missing according to governments.
One of the countries not included in the study is India, while it is suspected that the numbers there are actually huge. “It is not at all surprising that India did not want to give figures,” says correspondent Eva Oude Elferink. “From the first wave, it has already become clear that the death rates are very likely an underestimate and during the second wave that became really clear.”
As the Indian government continued to insist that they were handling the corona crisis well and there were almost no deaths, journalists have literally started counting at crematoria and cemeteries. “At a crematorium, I’ve been to myself, the numbers rose to 100 people a day. While there were normally 10 to 15 deaths a day.”
According to official government figures, about 400,000 people have died from corona in India. But recent research estimates that this number is six to ten times higher.
“In India, the registration of deaths is in any case poorly organized,” says Oude Elferink. “Many people die at home and a cause is rarely registered. In addition, there were not enough tests available during the peak in April. Then people had all the symptoms, but they were not registered as corona deaths.”
President Modi benefits when official numbers are low and he continues to insist that he has handled the corona crisis well and decisively. “But with these new figures, that is becoming increasingly difficult for the government.”
“I find it difficult to estimate,” says Van Zelst. “The death records between countries vary so extremely. If only in India the number is probably that much higher and that country is not even included in these figures, then I think the official death rate is much higher. The most recent estimate is that somewhere between seven and fifteen million people have died from corona than are registered. I think we will only have an idea of the real numbers in three years.”
Catch up on more stories here
Follow us on Facebook here