The UK is among the hardest-hit countries in the world, with more than two-thirds of nations weathering the pandemic with fewer excess deaths than usual.
The World Health Organization says the real number of excess deaths attributed to Covid worldwide is more than double the official coronavirus death toll
New figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) show how countries around the world fare in terms of the number of excess deaths during the Covid pandemic – and 70% of nations have recorded fewer deaths than the UK.
Figures from last week (5 May) show an estimated 14.9 million additional deaths worldwide have been linked to the pandemic in 2020 and 2021 – 9.5 million more than the number of official Covid deaths.
Excess mortality measures the true impact of the pandemic as it captures deaths caused by Covid, either directly (due to the disease) or indirectly (due to the impact of the pandemic on healthcare systems and society).
It also takes into account a reduction in deaths from the pandemic, such as fewer car accidents during lockdown.
The UK ranked 56th out of 194 countries for the highest number of deaths in 2020 and 2021, recording 109 extra deaths per 100,000 people, or 149,000 deaths overall.
It was 26th out of 43 European countries (excluding Russia), but sixth out of 23 nations and principalities in Western Europe, surpassed only by San Marino (251 deaths per 100,000 people), Andorra (242), Italy (133), Germany ( 116) and Spain (111).
The UK’s closest neighbors, France and Ireland, had significantly fewer deaths, at 63 and 29 per 100,000 respectively.
Which countries are hardest hit by the coronavirus?
The number of deaths for 2020 and 2021 is the difference between the number of deaths that occurred and what would normally have been expected based on data from previous years.
The numbers are estimates as some countries do not keep adequate records. WHO analysts have made forecasts to fill in the gaps.
WHO analysis shows that Peru is the worst affected country in the world. The South American nation recorded 437 extra deaths per 100,000 people in 2020-2021, four times more than Britain.
Closely followed by Bulgaria with 415 per 100,000 over the same period and Bolivia with 375.
Most of the excess deaths (84%) are concentrated in Southeast Asia, Europe and the Americas.
New Zealand, which notably adopted a “zero Covid” strategy against the pandemic, did not record excess mortality, with 28 deaths per 100,000 people lower than would normally have been expected – one of the best results in the world. China also recorded negative deaths at -2 deaths per 100,000.
The WHO said a negative number of deaths is likely due to public health measures taken to combat the virus (e.g. working from home or social distancing), resulting in fewer road traffic injuries and less seasonal flu.
How do deaths in the UK compare to the rest of Europe?
A clear west-east divide has emerged in Europe, with countries to the east recording much higher death tolls than most nations on the other side of the continent.
Bulgaria recorded the highest number of deaths in Europe at 415 per 100,000 population, followed by North Macedonia at 369 per 100,000 and Lithuania at 319. Russia at 367. Ukraine recorded 227 excess deaths per 100,000, the 12th highest in Europe.
Iceland and Norway were the only countries in Europe to record negative deaths, at -2 and -1 deaths per 100,000, respectively.
“The true extent of excess mortality often remains hidden”
The WHO said its numbers show the importance of making health systems resilient so they don’t get overwhelmed during pandemics.
dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said: “These sobering data not only highlight the impact of the pandemic, but also the need for all countries to invest in more resilient health systems that can maintain essential health services during crises, including stronger health information systems .
“WHO is committed to working with all countries to strengthen their health information systems to generate better data for better decisions and better outcomes.”
dr Samira Asma, Deputy Director-General for Data, Analysis and Delivery at WHO, added: “Measuring excess mortality is an essential component to understanding the impact of the pandemic.
“Due to limited investment in data systems in many countries, the true extent of excess mortality often remains hidden. These new estimates are based on the best available data and have been produced using a robust methodology and a fully transparent approach.”
The WHO analysis used a statistical model constructed using information from countries with reasonable death dates; The model was then used to create estimates for countries with little or no available data.