Many experts believe excess deaths are a better indicator of the true scale of the pandemic because they discount people who would have died anyway during the period and level the playing field, exposing countries that have under-reported deaths.
Last week, Ed Humpherson, the director general of the the Office for Statistics Regulation, told MPs on the health and science select committee that he would advise using excess deaths as the more accurate figure.
Dr Sarah Scobie, the deputy director of research at the Nuffield Trust, said: “I think, if I was wanting to make a comparison internationally, I would be inclined to look at excess deaths as as the better measure because that would deal with the fact that, in different countries, there may be differences in in how in how Covid has been recorded, and particularly at the early stages of the pandemic.”
The Lancet study found many countries have been under-reporting deaths and estimated that the true death toll of Covid globally is likely to be three times the official figure – 18.2 million compared to 5.9 million up to Dec 31, 2021.
In South Asia, excess deaths were found to be 9.5 times higher than reported deaths, and in sub-Saharan Africa it was 14.2 times higher.
Researchers said the large differences between excess deaths and official records may be a result of under-diagnosis due to lack of testing and problems with reporting death data.
At the country level, the highest number of estimated excess deaths occurred in India (4.1 million), the US (1.1 million), Russia (1.1 million), Mexico (798,000), Brazil (792,000), Indonesia (736,000) and Pakistan (664,000).
These countries may have accounted for more than half of global excess deaths caused by the Covid pandemic over the 24-month period.