Death toll from COVID-19 “much higher” says WHO

The World Health Organization says the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic led to almost 15 million excess deaths, almost three times the number of deaths reported as being from COVID-19.

“Excess deaths” refer to mortality caused over and above expectations of deaths in a population within a certain period.

The study authors stated their estimates were more accurate indicators of COVID-19 related deaths.

“The alternative to excess mortality estimates—that is, relying on reported COVID-19 deaths represents a severe undercount of the toll,” they say.

“Even in countries with all-cause mortality data for which the estimates are much more certain, mortality has risen substantially such that excess mortality is much higher than reported COVID-19 deaths, whether it is by 50% or by several hundred per cent.”

In Australia, excess mortality was around 13% higher for the first eight months of the year, according to the latest estimates from the Actuaries Institute.

The Institute uses its own model to independently assess this rate using Australian Bureau of Statistics data.

8,200 deaths were attributed to COVID-19 during the first eight months of the year – coinciding with the first two Omicron waves – with a further 2,100 deaths where the disease was listed as a contributory cause.

5,100 deaths did not mention COVID-19 as a cause of death.

Actuaries’ COVID-19 Mortality Working Group spokesperson Karen Cutter explained last week that removing deaths attributed to the disease still left a large number of excess deaths from other causes.

It’s something the group believes should be investigated.

“Even after removing all ‘from’ and ‘with’ COVID-19 deaths, significant excess mortality remains for 2022,” Cutter says.

“[There was] a spike around the time of the January peak in COVID-19 deaths and another coinciding with the peak of the flu season in June/July.”

“Generally, about half of [excess deaths] were due to deaths from COVID-19, with the exception of Tasmania that had relatively fewer deaths from COVID-19 and more deaths from other causes.

“It is not clear what might be driving this, although we expect that at least part of the excess will be in respect of people who otherwise may have succumbed to respiratory disease in 2020 and 2021.”

Research into long COVID and the long-term effects of COVID-19 is ongoing, with reports indicating the disease may have longer-term impacts on other bodily systems, including the cardiovascular system.

After COVID-19, ischaemic heart disease was the biggest cause of excess mortality in Australia.

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