Why coronavirus death toll could be 60% higher than we think

·News Reporter
·4-min read

A closer look at the total number of overall global deaths in recent months compared to official COVID-19 death records in 14 countries suggests there may have been far more people killed by the virus than currently believed.

An analysis conducted by the Financial Times explored the potential likelihood of widespread under-reporting of coronavirus-related deaths and suggested a possible global death toll that is almost 60 per cent higher what has actually been reported.

Just 77,000 deaths were officially attributed to COVID-19 in the 14 countries, however the total number of deaths were found to exceed normal death levels by 122,000, according to the publication.

This graph shows case numbers in countries hardest hit by coronavirus.
This graph (current as of April 27) shows case numbers in countries hardest hit by coronavirus. Source: John Hopkins University

It was projected that if the same trend of under-reporting was true for the rest of the world, it would skyrocket total global COVID-19 deaths from 201,000 to 318,000.

Deaths above normal numbers, which were averaged from March and April between 2015 and 2019, exceeded official coronavirus death toll figures in all of the 14 countries except one: Denmark.

The increased death tolls from March and April, 2020, in countries including Austria, Belgium, England and Wales, France, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Ecuador significantly exceeded official COVID-19 reported deaths.

The biggest disparity was recorded in the region surrounding Italy’s city of Bergamo, where there was a 464 per cent higher number of deaths than normal.

New York City recorded the second highest increase of 200 per cent more than normal, while Madrid in Spain had a 161 per cent rise.

The week ending April 10 was the most fatal for England and Wales this century, being 76 per cent higher than the average number in the past five years.

The analysis revealed disparities between total death numbers and those attributable to COVID-19. Source: AAP
The analysis revealed disparities between total death numbers and those attributable to COVID-19. Source: AAP

Deaths that exceeded normal numbers were 58 per cent higher in the country than those officially linked with COVID-19, according to data collected by the Financial Times.

Just 245 official coronavirus-related deaths were reported between March 1 and April 15 in the Guayas province in Ecuador, but more than 10,000 more people died in this period than normal.

Alternative causes of deaths during the pandemic

Some deaths may have been the result of causes not directly related to the COVID-19 disease, due to people avoiding hospitals or skipping doctor appointments because of lockdown restrictions and physical distancing measures.

Such significant excesses in deaths however, particularly in areas hit hardest by the deadly virus, suggests a large number of those deaths were likely coronavirus-related.

Professor Emma McBryde, an expert in Infectious Diseases Modelling and Epidemiology at James Cook University, said it was probable that more people died as a consequence of coronavirus than were recorded as direct COVID-19 deaths.

“What these people are dying from is not able to be discerned at the moment, so it could be a combination of undetected COVID and other diseases which are being relatively neglected (other infectious diseases, chronic diseases) or things that are exacerbated by lockdown like mental health, violence or suicide,” Professor McBryde told Yahoo News Australia.

Far more people may have died from the virus than has been officially recorded, a new analysis suggests. Source: AAP
Far more people may have died from the virus than has been officially recorded, a new analysis suggests. Source: AAP

“It could be about access to healthcare or it might be that the stress of the situation has had an impact, for example excess cardiovascular deaths.”

Influenza also induced a high death toll each year from things other than influenza itself, Prof McBryde said.

“This is most likely through increasing myocardial infarcts. So perhaps there is some direct effect of the coronavirus that is a bit delayed compared with the viral illness, as is seen in influenza,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

Prof McBryde said additional data from death certificates and the ages of people dying could offer better insight into the true reasons for unexplained spikes in death rates during the coronavirus period.

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