The pandemic likely contributed to an additional 979,000 deaths in 2020 across 29 high-income countries, according to a study led by an international team of scientists and published Wednesday in the British Medical Journal.
Researchers looked at data from 29 countries included in the Human Mortality Database, which collects data from national agencies and is run by scientists at the University of California Berkeley and the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany.
These countries, which included the United States, Germany, and South Korea are all members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). They compared the number of recorded deaths in 2020 to the number that would normally be expected based on data from the previous few years.
About 458,000 of the excess deaths, or nearly half, occurred in the US. The official Covid-19 death toll in the US in 2020 was 339,014.
The United Kingdom and Italy were also in the top three, with 94,000 and 89,000 excess deaths respectively.
“In most countries, the estimated number of excess deaths exceeded the number of reported deaths from Covid-19,” the team, led by Dr. Nazrul Islam of the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford, wrote.
“For example, in both the US and the UK (that is, England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland combined), the estimated excess deaths were more than 30% higher than the number of reported Covid-19 deaths, and they were more than 50% higher in some other countries, including Spain, Poland, Hungary, Greece, Lithuania, Slovakia, Estonia, and South Korea.”
“However, New Zealand, Norway, Denmark, Israel, France, Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland had a higher number of reported Covid-19 deaths than estimated excess deaths.” The team is not sure why.
Excess deaths were primarily concentrated in those aged 75 and older, followed by the 65-74 age group, the researchers found.
The findings suggest that “many countries had an underestimation or underreporting of Covid-19 deaths, a substantial increase in non-Covid-19 deaths, or both,” the team wrote.