A new analysis of the toll of the Covid-19 pandemic suggests 6.9 million people worldwide have died from the disease, more than twice as many people as has been officially reported.
In the United States, the analysis estimates, 905,000 people have died of Covid since the start of the pandemic. That is about 61% higher than the current death estimate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 561,594. The new figure also surpasses the estimated number of U.S. deaths in the 1918 flu pandemic, which was estimated to have killed approximately 675,000 Americans.
The analysis was conducted by scientists at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
“We’re probably not yet at the global toll of Spanish flu and certainly not at the death rate from Spanish flu. But given what’s unfolding in India right now, given our expectation of continued deaths, Covid is going to rival Spanish flu at the global level in terms of the count, likely, before we see the end of this epidemic,” the institute’s director, Christopher Murray, told reporters in a briefing.
Most countries have underreported deaths, Murray said. In many cases, the under-estimates seem to be a result of health systems being overwhelmed, and of insufficient testing.
But in several cases it appears something else would have to account for the scale of the differences between the deaths countries are reporting and the excess mortality they have experienced during the pandemic, he said, pointing to countries like the Russian Federation and Egypt, where the estimated deaths, 170,000, are 13 times higher than the country’s official death toll, 13,529.
Murray’s group estimates that by September, the global death toll from Covid-19 will reach 9.4 million, with India at that point surpassing the United States as the country with the highest toll. By September, the group’s models suggest that India’s Covid death toll will be 1.4 million people, and the U.S. toll will be 949,000.
The estimates are of deaths directly related to Covid, and do not include deaths that resulted from the pandemic’s disruption of health care — for example, people who did not seek care for heart attacks because they were afraid to go to Covid-swamped hospitals.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the percent change between the current death estimate from the CDC and the estimate in the new analysis.