So far, there have been 1,000,555 deaths from Covid-19, according to the latest update to the database, which draws on information from the World Health Organization, US and European centers of Disease Prevention and Control and the Chinese National Health Authority, among other sources. .
But the official figure likely underestimates the true total, a senior World Health Organization official said on Monday.
“On the contrary, the numbers currently reported probably represent an underestimation of people who have contracted or died from Covid-19,” Mike Ryan, WHO’s leading emergency expert, said at a briefing in Geneva.
“When you count anything, you can’t count it perfectly, but I can assure you that the current numbers are probably an underestimate of the true toll of Covid.”
More than a fifth of recorded deaths have been in the United States, the highest number of any country in the world, followed by more than 142,000 in Brazil and more than 95,000 in India, which currently has the most new cases per day.
The figure is just the known toll of a virus that may have already spread around the world and killed people before it was first identified in China in December. Italian studies found traces of the virus in sewage samples taken the same month, while French scientists identified a case there on December 27.
It is believed that there is a significant underreporting of deaths in many countries, including Syria and Iran, either for political reasons or due to a lack of capacity. Some countries are reporting that anyone who has died with Covid-19 has died from the virus, although this is not believed to have been the direct cause, while even in developed countries, deaths from Covid-19 at home can be less likely to be counted than those in hospitals.
“To some extent, researching the actual number of deaths linked to Covid-19 is impossible,” said Gianluca Baio, professor of statistics and health economics at University College London.
It also might not be as significant, he added. “The million number indicates a tragedy, it tells us that a lot of people have died. But what is crucial is not so much the actual number.
“The point is how many people have died from Covid-19 whose lives could have been extended. This is the real number we need to investigate and come out on the other side of this pandemic.
Establishing the excess mortality figure would likely come much later, once the acute phase of the pandemic was over and the data could be collected and cleaned of as much uncertainty as possible, said Marta Blangiardo, professor of biostatistics at Imperial. College London.
“It’s when all of this information on deaths by cause becomes available, which can be months and months after the main event, that you can go back and try to sort out the numbers.”
A study published on pre-print servers in July and not yet peer reviewed estimated an additional 202,900 deaths in 17 countries between mid-February and the end of May, the mostly in England, Wales, Italy and Spain. The global toll confirmed during the same period was less than 100,000 deaths.
Despite its imperfections, the recorded death toll still paints the picture of a pandemic that escalated at an astonishing speed from February and has not given way.
There were still less than 100 confirmed deaths per day at the start of March, mostly in China, according to the Johns Hopkins database. In the following weeks, rates appeared to explode in countries like Spain, Italy and Iran, and throughout April, an average of 6,400 deaths were recorded worldwide each day. .
The lowest number of deaths per day since then was recorded in May with an average of 4,449 deaths and in August the heaviest death toll with 5,652 deaths per day.
Evidence of long-term heart, lung and other problems in Covid-19 survivors is increasing, but future estimates of virus mortality have fallen since the start of the epidemic and would likely continue to do so, said Mark Woolhouse , professor of epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Edinburgh.
“Almost invariably in the early stages of a pandemic, we overestimate, often greatly, the death-to-case ratio. We just don’t detect [the mild cases]. We saw the tip of the iceberg, and it was the tip of the iceberg with the dead.
It was increasingly clear that deaths from the virus “are extremely concentrated in a 10-20% subset of the population: the elderly, frail and those with co-morbidities,” he said. .
“In this population, the case fatality rate is much higher than the initial WHO estimate. It’s really high, but for the rest of the population, it’s much lower. It depends on what we can expect from the flu, or even less than that.
A senior WHO official said last week that without concerted action to fight the virus, the prospect of the death toll eventually reaching 2 million was “very likely” before a vaccine was widely distributed.