COVID death toll likely an undercount: WHO

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Official tolls showing the number of deaths directly or indirectly attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to be a "significant undercount", the World Health Organisation says.

Six to eight million people may have died so far, it said on Friday.

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.

"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.

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.

The WHO did not give a breakdown of the figure, referred to by health experts as ""excess mortality".

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