Why COVID-19 Probably Killed More People Than We Realize




As the number of casualties from COVID-19 ballooned at an alarming rate last year, some feared that government officials were failing to report several coronavirus-related losses and the actual death toll was much higher worldwide.

While the official count shows more than 5 million people have died of the disease, a new study of underreported casualties in several countries indicates that COVID has actually killed hundreds of thousands more people than government records document.


The HBS researchers gathered the reported monthly numbers of deaths during the pandemic in each of the 51 countries from a variety of sources, including reports in the New York Times and the European Commission’s database, Eurostat. They compared that data to figures from the same months for the past three to five years to calculate excess deaths. Subtracting the number of official COVID deaths for each country helped them gauge potential underreporting.


In fact, countries with more stringent policies in place did, on average, have 59 percent higher unexplained excess deaths—that is, 159 deaths for every 100 reported for COVID.

Author(s): Ethan Rouen, George Serafeim

Publication Date: 2 Nov 2021

Publication Site: Working Knowledge at Harvard Business School