In the most comprehensive look into the pandemic’s fatality count yet, the WHO estimated that almost 15million deaths were logged from the start of 2020 to the end of 2021. Peru has logged the most excess deaths in relation to its population, with an extra 437 fatalities for every 100,000 people than expected. The US had the 40th highest excess death rate (140 per 100,000), while the UK came 56th (109 per 100,000)
The UK ranks roughly in the middle of an EU table of excess death rates, coming 15th out of the bloc’s 27 member states, behind Spain, Germany and Italy.
There were widely-publicised claims by zealous scientists and MPs — including Sir Keir Starmer — last year that Britain had endured one of the biggest death tolls on the continent. The claim was used by critics as justification for tougher restrictions.
But countries were previously judged by Covid death rates alone, which skewed Britain’s tally because it was testing more than anywhere else.
Excess deaths include fatalities from all causes and it is considered the most consistent way to measure pandemic death tolls because it accounts for a lack of swabbing and undiagnosed cases.
Out of the 194 countries that the WHO looked at, the UK ranked 54th with a death rate of 109 per 100,000 people, slightly above the global average of 90.
Spain (111), Germany (116), and Italy (133) all ranked higher, despite remaining in lockdowns for much longer than the UK. The US had the 40th highest excess death rate (140 per 100,000).
In the most comprehensive look into the pandemic’s fatality count yet, the WHO estimated that almost 15million deaths were logged from the start of 2020 to the end of 2021.
The UN agency’s tally, which misses off the entirety of 2022, includes people who directly died from Covid or the virus’s impact on overwhelmed health systems.
For comparison, the current official virus death toll is 6.2million, with a third of those logged in the US, Brazil and India.
The WHO said 20 countries, including the UK and the US, accounted for more than 80 per cent of the estimated ‘excess deaths’ over the first two years of the pandemic.
Peru has logged the most excess deaths in relation to its population, with an extra 437 fatalities for every 100,000 people than expected.
WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the ‘sobering’ figures should prompt nations to invest in more resilient health systems to quell future crises
WHO scientists estimated the global Covid death toll between January 2020 and January 2022 by calculating the difference between the number of deaths that have occurred and the number of deaths that were expected, based on data from previous years.
They estimated there were 14.9million deaths that could be attributed to Covid, but the figure could be as high as 16.6 million.
And more than 80 per cent of Covid deaths were logged in just 20 countries, including the UK and US, as well as Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Germany and India.
The vast majority of the fatalities (84 per cent) occurred in South-East Asia (5.9million), Europe (3.3million) and the Americas (3.23million), followed by Africa (1.3million), Eastern-Mediterranean (1.1million) and the Western Pacific (0.1million).
Peru had the highest excess death rate per 100,000 people (437), followed by Bulgaria (415), Bolivia (375), North Macedonia (369) and Russia (367).
The US had came 40th out of the 194 countries the WHO looked at, with 140 excess deaths per 100,000 people, while the UK came 56th (109 per 100,000).
Its analysis also confirms that more men were struck down by Covid than women, with 57 per cent of virus deaths among men.
The figures include those who died from Covid, as well as those who died due to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as deaths among people with cancer who were unable to seek treatment because hospitals were full of virus patients.
The WHO there could be even more Covid deaths because some fatalities were averted during the pandemic, such as fewer deaths in road accidents or in work during lockdowns.
Experts have long warned the true virus death toll will be many times higher than the reported figures due to limited testing and difficulties attributing the cause of death to the virus, as many fatalities will involve other underlying conditions.
And it is difficult to compare figures between countries because some nations only count deaths that occurred in hospitals.
Only 6.2million official Covid deaths have been confirmed worldwide, according to Oxford University-based platform Our World in Data.
This data shows the US has the highest death toll, while the UK has the seventh-highest.
Dr Albert Ko, an infectious diseases expert at the Yale School of Public Health, said the WHO analysis ‘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,’ he said.
The WHO findings come after US scientists estimated there were more than 18million Covid deaths from January 2020 to December 2021.
Separate researchers by a team of Canadian researchers estimated there were more than 3million uncounted Covid deaths in India alone.
Some countries, including India, have disputed WHO’s methodology for calculating Covid deaths, resisting the idea that there were many more deaths than officially counted.
Earlier this week, the Indian Government revealed the country logged 474,806 more deaths in 2020 compared to the previous year, but did not say how many were due to the pandemic.
India did not release any death estimates for 2021, when the highly infectious delta variant swept through the country, killing many thousands.
Dr Ko said the WHO’s figures may explain some ongoing mysteries about the pandemic, including why Africa appears to have been one of the countries least affected by the virus, despite its low vaccination rates.
‘Were the mortality rates so low because we couldn’t count the deaths or was there some other factor to explain that?’ he said.
Dr Ko noted that high death rates in the UK and US proved resources alone were insufficient to contain a global outbreak.
Dr Bharat Pankhania, a public health expert at the University of Exeter, said it may be impossible to calculate the true Covid death toll, especially for poor countries
He said: ‘When you have a massive outbreak where people are dying in the streets because of a lack of oxygen, bodies were abandoned or people had to be cremated quickly because of cultural beliefs, we end up never knowing just how many people died.’
Dr Pankhania noted the currently estimated Covid death toll is still a fraction of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic – when experts estimate up to 100million people died.
But he said it is ‘shameful’ that so many people died due to the coronavirus pandemic, despite significant advancements in modern medicine.
Dr Pankhania warned the cost of Covid could be far more damaging in the long term, given the increasing burden of long Covid.
He said: ‘With the Spanish flu, there was the flu and then there were some (lung) illnesses people suffered, but that was it. ‘here was not an enduring immunological condition that we’re seeing right now with Covid.
‘We do not know the extent to which people with long Covid will have their lives cut short and if they will have repeated infections that will cause them even more problems.’
Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of scientific charity the Wellcome Trust, said: ‘There can be no hiding from the fact this devastating death toll was not inevitable; or that there have been too many times in the past two years when world leaders have failed to act at the level needed to save lives.’
He noted that a third of the world’s population is still unvaccinated and ‘more must be done’ to protect people from Covid and future pandemics.
‘Climate change, shifting patterns of animal and human interaction, urbanisation and increasing travel and trade are creating more opportunities for new and dangerous infectious disease risks to emerge, amplify and then spread,’ Dr Farrar said.
He called on world leaders to ‘learn from this crisis and act immediately to end this pandemic, and make sure they do everything they can to prevent this ever happening again’.
Dr Farrar said global surveillance networks must be built and sustained to detect outbreaks before they escalate, while national and global health professionals must be supported to respond quickly at the start of an outbreak.
And vaccine, testing and treatment capacity must be equally distributed worldwide, he added.