Almost 15 million people died either from Covid-19 or its impact on overwhelmed health systems in the past two years, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated.
This is more than double the official death toll of six million.
Most of the fatalities were in South East Asia, Europe and the Americas, the UN agency revealed in a report released on Thursday.
The WHO's chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, described the figure as “sobering”, saying it should prompt countries to invest more in their capacities to quell future health emergencies.
It has been problematic calculating accurate numbers on Covid deaths throughout the pandemic, as the figures are only a fraction of the devastation wrought by the virus.
This is largely due to limited testing and differences in how countries count deaths related to the virus.
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Scientists now estimate that the actual number of Covid deaths between January 2020 and the end of last year was between 13.3 million and 16.6 million deaths, according to the WHO.
These were either caused directly by the those suffering from coronavirus or were in some way attributed to the pandemic’s impact on overwhelmed healthcare systems, such as people with cancer who were unable to get treatment when hospitals were full of Covid patients.
The figures are based on country-reported data and statistical modelling. The WHO did not immediately break down the figures to distinguish between direct deaths from Covid and others caused by the pandemic.
D. Bharat Pankhania, a public health specialist at the University of Exeter, said we may never get close to the true toll of Covid, particularly in poorer countries.
“When you have a massive outbreak where people are dying in the streets because of a lack of oxygen, bodies were abandoned or people had to be cremated quickly because of cultural beliefs, we end up never knowing just how many people died,” he explained.
He also warned that the virus' could be far more damaging in the long term, given the increasing burden of long Covid. “With the Spanish flu, there was the flu and then there were some (lung) illnesses people suffered, but that was it,” he said.
“There was not an enduring immunological condition that we’re seeing right now with Covid,” he said.