Almost three times as many people have died as a result of Covid-19 as official data show, according to a new World Health Organisation (WHO) report, the most comprehensive look at the true global toll of the pandemic so far.
There were 14.9 million excess deaths associated with Covid-19 by the end of 2021, the United Nations body said on Thursday.
The official count of deaths directly attributable to Covid-19 and reported to the WHO in that period, from January 2020 to the end of December 2021, is slightly more than 5.4 million.
The WHO's excess mortality figures reflect people who died of Covid-19 as well as those who died as an indirect result of the outbreak, including people who could not access healthcare for other conditions when systems were overwhelmed during huge waves of infection.
It also accounts for deaths averted during the pandemic, for example because of the lower risk of traffic accidents during lockdowns.
But the numbers are also far higher than the official tally because of deaths that were missed in countries without adequate reporting. Even pre-pandemic, around six in 10 deaths around the world were not registered, the WHO said.
The WHO's report said that almost half of the deaths that until now had not been counted were in India. It suggests that 4.7 million people died there as a result of the pandemic, mainly during a huge surge in May and June 2021.
The Indian government, however, puts its death toll for the January 2020-December 2021 period far lower, at about 480,000.
The WHO said it had not yet fully examined new data provided this week by India, which has pushed back against WHO estimates and on Tuesday issued its own mortality figures for all causes of death in 2020.
In a statement issued after the numbers were published, the Indian government said the WHO had released the report "without adequately addressing India's concerns" over what it called "questionable" methods. (Reuters)