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World’s Actual COVID-19 Death Toll ‘Several Times Larger’ Than Official Figures Show

World’s Actual COVID-19 Death Toll ‘Several Times Larger’ Than Official Figures Show

Many countries vastly underreport mortality rate, joint German-Israeli study finds

The global death toll from COVID-19 is several times larger than official figures show, due to widespread underreporting of mortality rates, a German-Israeli study reveals.

At the moment, confirmed deaths worldwide stand at over 4.2 million.

Many countries, however, have vastly downplayed the impact of the novel coronavirus, according to Ariel Karlinsky, a graduate student in economics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Dr. Dmitry Kobak, a research scientist at Germany’s University of Tübingen.

The duo recently created the “World Mortality Dataset” − the largest existing collection of data on mortality in general – in search of the true number of COVID-19 deaths. Their findings were published in the peer-reviewed eLife journal for the biomedical and life sciences.

In every country, a certain number of people normally die in a given period of time due to a variety of factors, whether old age, illness, violent crime, traffic accidents and so on. These deaths are referred to as “expected deaths.” In contrast, pandemics, wars and natural or manmade disasters result in additional deaths that go well beyond the expected, and these are known as “excess deaths.”

To calculate the number of deaths linked to the virus, Karlinsky and Kobak compiled statistics on excess deaths from 103 countries.

“There was essentially no good big data for doing the kind of work that we did, so I just started collecting data from all the countries that I could think of,” Karlinsky told The Media Line. “We scoured the websites of the national statistics offices for all the countries in the world.”

Epidemiologists have long used excess deaths to determine the real mortality rates of pandemics. For instance, for one of the deadliest pandemics in human history, the post-World War I Spanish flu, experts estimate that anywhere between 50 million and 100 million people died in four waves from 1918 to 1920.

When the information they needed was not readily available online, Karlinsky and Kobak put in direct requests for data from various government bodies. For many countries in Africa and East Asia, they were unable to access any data.

Sometimes it’s four to 15 or even up to 100 times higher, and this, of course, means that the country purposefully reports numbers that are too low. So overall, the global COVID-19 [death] toll is certainly several times larger than the official global toll

“We see that in some countries COVID deaths are counted very accurately and can even exceed the excess mortality (as is the case for example in Germany, France, Belgium, etc.),” Kobak told The Media Line.

Still, most countries were found to be severely undercounting deaths from the new virus.

“In the majority of countries, excess mortality is higher than the number of COVID deaths,” Kobak said. “Sometimes it’s 1.5 to two times higher, and this I think is because the country honestly struggles to count the COVID deaths correctly.

“But sometimes it’s four to 15 or even up to 100 times higher, and this, of course, means that the country purposefully reports numbers that are too low,” he continued. “So overall, the global COVID-19 [death] toll is certainly several times larger than the official global toll.”

Karlinsky echoed that statement and said the official global statistics are anything but an accurate reflection of reality.

“It’s very, very significantly higher,” he stressed, adding that so far they had found a discrepancy of over one million missing deaths in the countries examined in the study. Notably, that sample does not include major players such as India, China and Indonesia.

“Just in India alone, the number of COVID deaths − which currently [officially] is along the line of 400,000 − is anywhere between two and six million,” Karlinsky said. “India alone probably doubles the [global] toll, without even counting other massive countries like Indonesia and Pakistan.”

And in Latin America, for example, Bolivia, Ecuador and Mexico were all found to be dramatically underreporting COVID-19 deaths.

According to the “World Mortality Dataset,” Bolivia likely has seen 36,000 deaths, rather than the official count of 15,000. Likewise, Ecuador’s real toll is 2.9 times higher than its official figure − 64,000 instead of 22,000. Meanwhile, the researchers found 471,000 excess deaths in Mexico − 2.1 times higher than the 221,000 deaths currently attributed to the pandemic there.

Other countries have repeatedly refused to provide accurate figures, such as Russia. Karlinsky and Kobak found that Russia’s death toll was four times higher than reported − 551,000 deaths instead of 135,000.

Tajikistan topped the list in terms of underreporting. The COVID-19 death rate was found to be a staggering 100 times higher than reported − 9,000 deaths instead of 90.

“The more authoritarian the country is, the greater the chance that the undercounting is going to be higher,” Karlinsky explained.

With regards to China, the researchers were − perhaps unsurprisingly − unable to obtain any data, he said. Initial figures that came out during the peak of the first wave in Wuhan − where the virus originated − showed significant excess mortality.

“But all of these studies end in April or May 2020, so essentially we know absolutely nothing about what’s been happening there since then,” Karlinsky said.

In the Middle East, Israel’s excess deaths were found to actually be fewer than the reported figures − 5,000 instead of 6,400. This is likely due to a decrease in deaths from non-COVID-19 respiratory infections, which took a nosedive thanks to lengthy lockdowns and social distancing.

Egypt had excess deaths that were 13 times higher than reported − 196,000 instead of 15,000, while Iran’s were 2.15 times higher − 115,000 deaths rather than 54,000, the researchers found.

Kobak hopes that the database will be an asset for researchers and that it will raise awareness of the true cost of the pandemic.

“I hope [researchers] will be able to use our database and our excess mortality estimates for their own research, for example to investigate the relationship between excess mortality and the governmental measures taken against the pandemic,” he said.

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