Published 22:20 IST, February 5th 2024

WHO: 7 Million COVID-19 Deaths Recorded During Pandemic, Actual Fatalities 3 Times Higher

The death toll from the deadly SARS-CoV-2 is estimated to be closer to 21 million, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.

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WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and the deaths during the COVID-19. | Image: AP

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday, February 5, said that while it calculated over 7 million deaths since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 until 2023, the actual data suggesting the fatalities is, at least, thrice the figure.

The death toll from the deadly SARS-CoV-2 is estimated to be closer to 21 million, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said. And the agency officially declared the end to the novel coronavirus pandemic, it added that there continue to be millions of the then infected people who are battling with the lingering symptoms of the ‘long-COVID.’ The WHO stated that it is in the process of making an analysis of excess deaths during the pandemic that may have been left out from the tally.


The deaths during the pandemic were tallied in accordance with the observed deaths with confirmed diagnosis of the respiratory disease in a specific time frame. It may not have included the deaths due to comorbidity, for example and expected number of deaths for that same period due to other factors.

“We are working to estimate what this is. We have estimates up to the end of 2021, and these are being revised to look at excess deaths for 2022 – and will be done for 2023 as well,” said WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead and director ad interim for Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness and Prevention, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, at a virtual press conference. “We expect that the actual true number is at least three times higher,” she stressed.


“These sobering data not only point to the impact of the pandemic but also to the need for all countries to invest in more resilient health systems that can sustain essential health services during crises, including stronger health information systems,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. 

“WHO is committed to working with all countries to strengthen their health information systems to generate better data for better decisions and better outcomes.”

A dead body of a COVID-19 patient being buried in the outskirts of Iran. (AP)

‘We are missing COVID deaths from around the world’

Many countries were unable to calculate the actual deaths arising from the COVID-19 as mortuaries overwhelmed and the health system collapsed, or even due to lack of medical facilities to handle the influx the patients.

As was the case in highly populated India or China, bodies being cremated in the parking lot,  and on the banks of the River Ganges that may not have been calculated as the COVID-related deaths. In the Chinese city of Wuhan alone, there were 712 million cases of COVID-19 by December 2019. Russia, Singapore and Italy in January 2020 mounted the highest number of cases during the initial days, while US recorded 6,100 deaths in just 28 days by January 14 of 2020, but only 10,000 deaths made it on official tally.


“We are missing deaths from around the world. Because countries aren’t reporting deaths, it doesn’t mean that they’re not happening,” said Dr Kerkhove, adding that there had been a 42% increase in hospitalisations and a 62% rise in ICU admissions in December 2023. 

Most of the fatalities that made to the official tally of the World Health Agency started from late January 2020. The fatalities recorded by the WHO may be just the tip of the iceberg, says Dr  Kerkhove.

The “case-based data, as reported to WHO, is not a reliable indicator. It has not been a reliable indicator for a couple of years now. And so if you look at the epi curve, it looks like the virus is gone, and it’s not,” she noted. The  epidemic curve depicts the distribution of COVID-19 cases over period of time. “According to wastewater estimates that we have from a number of countries, the actual circulation of Sars-CoV-2 is anywhere between two and 19 times higher than what is being reported,” Kerkhove added. 


22:20 IST, February 5th 2024