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Nearly 15 million people were killed either by the coronavirus or by its impact on overwhelmed health systems in the past two years, more than double the official death toll of six million, the World Health Organisation has announced.
In a report released on Thursday, the UN agency’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the figure as “sobering,” saying it should prompt countries to invest more in their capacities to quell future health emergencies.
Scientists tasked by WHO with calculating the actual number of Covid-19 deaths between January 2020 and the end of last year estimated there were between 13.3 million and 16.6 million deaths that were either caused directly by the coronavirus or were somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, like people with cancer unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of Covid patients.
The figures are based on country-reported data and statistical modelling. WHO did not immediately break down the figures to distinguish between direct deaths from Covid-19 and others caused by the pandemic.
“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” said Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research.
For example, Mr Ko said, South Korea’s decision to invest heavily in public health after it suffered a severe outbreak of MERS allowed it to escape Covid-19 with a per-capita death rate around a 20th of that of the U.S.
Accurate numbers on Covid-19 deaths have been problematic throughout the pandemic, as the figures are only a fraction of the devastation wrought by the virus, largely because of limited testing and differences in how countries count Covid-19 deaths.
ccording to government figures reported to WHO and to a separate count kept by Johns Hopkins University, there have been more than six million reported coronavirus deaths to date.