- The global coronavirus death toll could be significantly higher than official tallies, a new analysis from the Financial Times found.
- The Financial Times compared how many more people died — from any cause — in early 2020 than in a normal year.
- This gives a picture of the scale of the pandemic that doesn’t rely on virus-specific data from national health authorities, which are likely undercounting.
- The global death toll could be as much as 60% higher, according to the Financial Times.
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A new analysis of coronavirus deaths in 14 countries found that official death tolls are likely massively understating the true scale of the pandemic.
The Financial Times studied the number of deaths from all causes in 14 countries in March and April, then compared that figure with the average for the same period between 2015 and 2019. It concluded that the difference between the two was a reasonable estimate of how many extra deaths the pandemic had caused.
The Financial Times found that the death toll calculated this way was almost 60% higher than the various countries’ official death tolls: a total of 122,000 deaths above normal levels, compared with 77,000 from the official numbers.
It has long been clear that official figures — usually from national health ministries — are not capturing all the deaths from the pandemic. Some governments, for instance, do not include deaths in care homes.
The Financial Times said its figure might also capture deaths that are indirectly attributable to the virus — for example, people who died of other health problems because national systems were overwhelmed with virus patients.
But it said most were directly related to the virus. “Excess mortality has risen most steeply in places suffering the worst COVID-19 outbreaks, suggesting most of these deaths are directly related to the virus rather than simply side-effects of lockdowns,” the report said.
The analysis looked at countries including Denmark, Italy, Spain, France, Ecuador, Sweden, and England and Wales.
It also looked at specific regions.
For example, the newspaper said that in Ecuador’s Guayas province, which has been hit hard by the virus, 245 coronavirus deaths were reported from March 1 to April 15. But overall death statistics showed that about 10,200 more people died during this period than the average in previous years, an increase of 350%.
—John Burn-Murdoch (@jburnmurdoch) April 26, 2020
It found that New York City had at least a 200% rise in deaths and that Madrid had a 161% increase.
The Financial Times’ analysis. found the number of deaths in 2020 compared with the average in previous years rose by 60% in Belgium, by 51% in Spain, by 42% in the Netherlands, and by 34% in France.
In all countries except Denmark, the Financial Times found that the deaths above the average far outnumbered recorded coronavirus deaths.
Widespread skepticism about the accuracy of countries’ death tolls
There has been skepticism about the official death tolls since the outbreaks began. The true scale of the pandemic is hard to measure without mass testing, which many countries have struggled to provide.
Some countries could end up revising death tolls after their outbreaks have been contained, as China did. The city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began, in April revised its death toll 50% higher, citing deaths from cases that were missed because of the overwhelmed healthcare system.
And some countries already have glaring omissions from their reported death tolls.
For example, some of the UK’s official data includes only the deaths in hospitals.
A New York Times analysis published on Saturday found that at least 36,000 more people had died over the previous month in 12 countries compared with official figures.
Other research has found that the real death tolls in China, Italy, and the US may be at least 10 times as high.