Analysis of death tolls in 13 countries and regions hit by coronavirus has revealed tens of thousands of unexplained deaths that could be linked to the pandemic but are not being counted in official totals.
Data reveals that some 88,000 more people died in the locations studied between March and April this year than in previous years – a figure known as ‘excess mortality’ – but that only around 56,250 of those deaths were included in the official coronavirus tolls.
The places analysed include: Spain, England and Wales, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, Lombardy, New York City, Istanbul and Jakarta.
That leaves some 31,750 deaths over seasonal averages that are not being included in the total, but may be directly or indirectly caused by the virus.
That figure will include patients who died outside hospital, were not tested for coronavirus when they died, or those who died from non-coronavirus conditions because they were unable to get treatment.
Experts have previously argued that excess deaths during disasters should be included in death tolls because it provides a more complete picture when systems that typically count deaths are overwhelmed – though others say the figures are not accurate.
The data below was collected from from 13 federal or regional authorities that have been reporting it and collated by both The Economist and The New York Times.
The New York Times identified 24,950 deaths in 11 locations that were not captured in the official coronavirus tolls, while The Economist found another 6,800 in two more locations – Lombardy and Austria.
For example, In New York City – America’s hardest-hit city – authorities registered 17,200 more deaths between March 11 and April 18 than would have been expected during that time period based on previous years.
Only 13,240 coronavirus deaths were registered in the city during that period, meaning there were 3,960 deaths above the average that may be due to the virus but are not included in the official tally.
On average, the 13 places examined had an official total that was 40 per cent lower than the excess mortality figure, meaning if that trend were replicated globally, it would raise the total killed so far by coronavirus from the 178,000 figure reported Wednesday to almost 250,000.
The figures are provisional and are likely to change as more deaths are registered and a clearer picture begins to emerge. But here is what the data we currently have suggests about the true toll of coronavirus…
SPAIN – 7,229 uncounted extra deaths
Europe’s second-worst affected country, Spain has seen many deaths outside of hospital which are not being counted in the total, particularly in care homes which were hit hard early on.
Between March 9 and April 5, officials registered 19,700 excess deaths of which 12,401 were included in the coronavirus total. That means 7,299 deaths above the average have not been accounted for.
A graph showing the average number of deaths per week in Spain between 2010 and 2019 in blue, and the number of deaths per week in 2020 in red – which was slightly below average before soaring well above it as coronavirus hit
ENGLAND AND WALES – 6,365 uncounted extra deaths
Between March 7 and April 10 the UK suffered through the peak of its coronavirus crisis as the daily death toll shot up from less than 10 to 980.
In the same time period, officials in England and Wales recorded a total of 16,700 deaths that were above the seasonal average – but only 10,335 that were officially put down to coronavirus.
That leaves 6,365 deaths above the average that have not been accounted for.
A graph showing the average number of deaths per week in England and Wales between 2010 and 2019 in blue, and the number of deaths per week in 2020 in red – which followed the average before soaring as coronavirus hit
FRANCE – 2,441 uncounted extra deaths
Officials in Paris have not reported yearly average death data as some other countries have done, meaning only a snapshot of the month of March is available – which is why the graph is less complete than others.
However, the data that is available shows that between March 9 and April 5 there were 10,500 more deaths reported in France than is usual at that time of year – only 8,059 of which were logged as coronavirus deaths.
That means 2,441 excess deaths that might be attributable to the virus but have not been counted.
A snapshot of data released by French authorities that shows the number of deaths recorded in March 2020 is well above the 2010-2019 average for the same month. Average death figures for other months have not been released
NETHERLANDS – 1,834 uncounted extra deaths
Between March 9 and April 5, the Netherlands recorded some 4,000 more deaths than is typical for the time of year as coronavirus spread.
But during the same period its total number of deaths from the virus was 2,166, meaning 1,834 excess deaths that have not been captured in the total.
A graph showing the average number of deaths per week in the Netherlands between 2010 and 2019 in blue, and the number of weekly deaths so far in 2020 – which was below average before soaring well above it as coronavirus hit
BELGIUM – 668 uncounted extra deaths
Belgium has one of the highest coronavirus death rates in Europe when compared to the size of its population, which officials say is because it is including suspected cases and deaths outside hospital in its total.
But excess mortality figures reveal other deaths are still being missed. Between March 9 and April 5, the country recorded some 2,300 deaths above the seasonal average.
But during the same period it logged just 1,362 coronavirus deaths, meaning 668 deaths above the seasonal average that have gone unexplained.
A graph showing the average number of deaths per week in Belgium between 2010 and 2019 in blue, and the number of weekly deaths so far in 2020 – which was below average before soaring well above it as coronavirus hit
SWITZERLAND – 288 uncounted extra deaths
Switzerland was among the first European countries to be hit by a widespread outbreak after the virus crossed the border from northern Italy.
Excess mortality data taken between March 9 and April 5 showed a total of 1,000 deaths above the average, but 712 official coronavirus deaths in the same period. That means a total of 288 death unaccounted for.
A graph showing the average number of deaths per week in Switzerland between 2010 and 2019 in blue, and the number of deaths per week so far in 2020 – which was below average before soaring well above it as coronavirus hit
AUSTRIA – 142 uncounted extra deaths
The country’s ski resorts are thought to have been one of the initial hotbeds of coronavirus in Europe – nevertheless, it has escaped with far fewer cases and deaths than some of its neighbours.
Between March 23 and April 5, there were 330 deaths above the seasonal average registered in the country, compared to 118 official coronavirus deaths.
That leaves 142 deaths above what is expected for the time of year, but not captured in the official toll.
A graph showing the average weekly deaths in Austria in previous years in blue, and the number of deaths registered in 2020 in red – showing the country is slightly above where it would typically be
SWEDEN – 60 fewer deaths than official total
Sweden is an anomaly among the countries examined, because it actually reported more coronavirus deaths than it had excess deaths.
Between March 9 and April 12, the country logged 1,100 deaths above the seasonal average but reported 1,160 coroanvirus deaths.
This does not mean their official total should be lower, rather it reflects the fact that the country was below seasonal average deaths when coronavirus began killing people. It also exposes one of the weaknesses in using excess deaths to calculate the number of total deaths.
A graph showing the average number of deaths per week in Switzerland between 2010 and 2019 in blue, and the number of weekly deaths so far in 2020 – which was below average before soaring well above it as coronavirus hit
LOMBARDY, ITALY – 6,670 uncounted extra deaths
The hardest-hit region of the hardest-hit European country, Lombardy has reported thousands of deaths attributed to coronavirus.
But excess mortality data shows the true toll could be double. Between March 1 and April 4, the region registered a total of 12,802 deaths more than usual for the time of year.
Of those, 6,132 were attributed to coronavirus – leaving another 6,670 excess deaths that have gone unexplained.
A line graph showing the average number of deaths per week in Lombardy in previous years in blue, compared to the number recorded per week in 2020 in red, showing the region is well above average for the time of year
NEW YORK CITY, USA – 3,960 uncounted extra deaths
New York City has been America’s worst-affected city with coronavirus, accounting for almost 15,000 of the country’s total 45,000 deaths.
But excess mortality data shows that number could be higher still. Between March 15 and April 4 there were 17,200 deaths recorded in the city above what would be expected for the time of year.
Of those, 13,240 were recorded as coronavirus deaths. That leaves another 3,960 deaths above the average that are not included in the official total.
A bar chart showing the expected number of deaths in New York between March and April (left), the total deaths this year above that figure (right), and the number that have been official attributed to coronavirus (centre)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY – 1,094 uncounted extra deaths
Turkey has been slow to acknowledge both coronavirus cases and deaths, but data published in the capital Istanbul gives a fuller picture.
Between March 9 and April 12, there were a total of 2,100 excess deaths registered in the city – double the number being reported nationally. Just 1,006 were put down to coronavirus.
That leaves an additional 1,094 deaths above the average which were not reflected in the official toll.
A line graph showing the average number of deaths per week in Istanbul in previous years in blue, compared to the number recorded per week in 2020 in red, showing the city is well above average
JAKARTA, INDONESIA – 916 uncounted extra deaths
The city has not reported death tolls so far this year, but has revealed how many burials it has carried out – giving an indication of the total number of deaths.
Figures reveal that roughly 1,000 more burials occurred in the city in March this year compared to the previous year – and well above the seasonal average from previous years.
During that time the city reported just 84 coronavirus deaths, meaning 916 deaths that have not been accounted for the in total.
A chart showing the average number of burials in Jakarta, Indonesia, in previous years compared to the number reported in March this year – suggesting a large number of deaths going uncounted in the country’s coronavirus death toll