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The true Covid death toll

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The Economist has put an enormous amount of effort into maintaining an excess death data base over the course of the Covid pandemic. Calculating the excess deaths in a population is by far the best way of calculating how many people have actually died as a result of the Covid pandemic, either directly from the disease, or indirectly because of secondary effects (note that the secondary effects go both ways, as some deaths from other causes, for example influenza, have clearly been prevented by Covid mitigation measures).

The bottom line here is that the global death toll from Covid is almost certainly (95% confidence interval) somewhere between two and a half and five times greater than the official number of Covid deaths. There are about seven million of the latter, while excess death statistics indicate somewhere between 18.5 million and 35.2 million people have actually died as a result of the pandemic to this point.

Note that in this respect the United States does very well, with an excess death rate that’s only 20% higher than the official Covid death toll (Official toll: 1.17 million; excess deaths around 1.4 million). This isn’t surprising, in the sense that rich countries with advanced public health systems are likely to see much less of a gap between official Covid deaths and actual deaths. On the other hand, relative poverty plus authoritarianism produces very much the opposite effect:

India

Official Covid deaths: 533K

Actual excess deaths: 2.8 million to 10 million

Russia: Official deaths: 420K

Actual deaths: 1.2 million to 1.9 million

Ethiopia: Official deaths: 7.5K

Actual deaths: 97K to 640K

China: Official deaths: 122K

Actual deaths: 430K to 4.9 million

Etc.

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