COVID-19 death toll could be 2 to 3 times higher than recorded, WHO reports

Deaths from COVID-19 and COVID-related causes are likely significantly higher than what countries have recorded in their official data, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

Presenting its annual World Health Statistics report, the organization said up to 8 million deaths may be linked to COVID-19, more than double the official tally.

WHO said an extrapolation of data suggests that globally, over 3 million excess deaths attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic occurred in 2020.

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"This is over 1.2 million deaths more than the reported 1.8 million COVID-19 deaths," WHO wrote in the report.

This data suggests that COVID-19 deaths are likely two to three times higher than the number recorded in a country’s official data.

"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, at a virtual press briefing, according to the New York Times. 

However, further data collection and additional statistical modeling are needed to refine this estimate. 

"Available evidence from the countries with rapid mortality surveillance systems suggests that in many locations the reported number of COVID-19 deaths is a significant undercount of the full toll of the pandemic, and the estimated excess mortality can be many times higher," the report continued.

The discrepancy between data underscores the limited capacities many countries face to provide accurate and timely data on coronavirus-related deaths.

As of Friday, there have been more than 165.8 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 3.4 million deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.