Up to three times more people have died due to the pandemic than indicated by the officially reported Covid-19 deaths, the World Health Organization has said.
The WHO Assistant Director-General in charge of data said "total deaths are at least 2-3 times higher than officially reported" as the UN health agency released an annual report on global health statistics.
In 2020, it found there had been at least three million excess deaths due directly or indirectly to Covid-19, while the official number of Covid-19 deaths was 1.8 million at the end of the year.
"We are likely facing a significant undercount of total deaths directly and indirectly attributed to Covid-19," the WHO said.
It officially estimates that around 3.4 million people have died directly as a result of the pandemic by May 2021.
"This number would truly be two to three times higher. So I think safely about 6 to 8 million deaths could be an estimate on a cautionary note," said Assistant Director-General Samira Asma,
WHO data analyst William Msemburi said that this estimate included both unreported Covid-19 deaths as well as indirect deaths due to the lack of hospital capacity and restrictions on movements among other factors.
"The challenge is that the reported Covid-19 [death toll figure] is an undercount of that full impact," Mr Msemburi said.
The WHO did not give a breakdown of the figure, referred to by health experts as ""excess mortality".