The coronavirus has killed more than double the number of people officially reported, according to a study.
US analysts estimate that the disease has caused around 6.9 million deaths worldwide, compared to 3.2 million reported by the World Health Organization (WHO).
They warned that the low number of tests and weak health systems in developing countries were partly to blame for the biased statistics.
But much of the under-reporting has occurred in Western countries that have suffered huge epidemics, including the UK, US and Italy, according to the study.
He said this was mainly due to a lack of testing at the start of the pandemic, when many Covid patients died without confirmation of the disease.
The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Measurement and Evaluation warned that the data showed the true toll of the pandemic was “significantly worse” than it appears.
According to the analysis, the United States has the highest number of Covid deaths in the world with 905,289 – far more than the officially recorded 574,043.
It is followed by India and Mexico, which have each suffered more than 600,000 victims of the virus, three times the figures of the WHO.
Britain is believed to have had 209,661 dead from Covid, around 60,000 more than what has actually been recorded. Statisticians who follow the outbreak by analyzing death certificates have counted just 150,000 coronavirus deaths in the UK since the start of the pandemic – the equivalent of around one-fifth of all casualties.
The analysis only includes deaths caused directly by Covid and not those indirectly caused by the pandemic, including disruptions to healthcare.
The coronavirus has killed more than double the number of people than has been officially reported, according to a study. US analysts estimate that the disease has caused around 6.9 million deaths worldwide, compared to 3.2 million reported by the World Health Organization (WHO). Analysis only includes deaths caused directly by Covid and not those indirectly caused by the pandemic, including disruptions to healthcare
Dr Chris Murray, Director of IHME, said: ‘As terrible as the Covid pandemic emerges, this analysis shows that the real toll is much worse.
“Understanding the actual number of Covid-related deaths not only helps us appreciate the scale of this global crisis, but also provides valuable information to decision-makers who are developing response and recovery plans.
The researchers said deaths were not being reported because countries only counted those that occur in hospitals or in patients with confirmed infection.
In many places, weak health notification systems and poor access to health care amplify this challenge.
The IHME estimated the actual number of deaths from Covid by comparing the predicted deaths from all causes based on pre-pandemic trends with the actual number of deaths from all causes during the pandemic.
This “excess mortality” figure was then adjusted to eliminate deaths indirectly attributable to the pandemic.
These would include people with non-Covid illnesses avoiding healthcare facilities, as well as deaths averted by the pandemic – for example, the decline in traffic deaths due to lockdowns.
Kazakhstan was the country with the largest gap between official and “real” deaths from Covid, according to the analysis.
The country has only officially recorded around 5,600 Covid deaths, but the IHME estimates the actual toll at 81,600.
Egypt had a similar disparity – with around 13,500 official deaths compared to around 170,000.
The actual death toll in Japan was ten times the official government number – 108,000 to 10,390 – and in Russia it was five times higher – 593,000 to 109,000.
Dr Murray added: “Many countries have devoted exceptional efforts to measuring the toll of the pandemic, but our analysis shows how difficult it is to accurately track a new infectious disease that is spreading rapidly.
“We hope today’s report will encourage governments to identify and address the gaps in their reporting on Covid mortality, so that they can more precisely direct pandemic resources.