We can be confident there have been far more than 5 million global Covid deaths | David Spiegelhalter and Anthony Masters

News organisations reported that the global death toll from Covid-19 had surpassed 5 million on 1 November. These articles show that this number is likely to be significantly underestimated.
Johns Hopkins University compiles daily statistics on Covid deaths. However, there is no one-size fits all definition. For example, Belgium's high reported death rate partially reflects the inclusion of all possible Covid deaths in all settings. Hungary, however, only publishes deaths from hospitalizations with positive tests. According to reports, Turkmenistan, North Korea, and North Korea have not seen a single Covid death.

On 1 November, the UK surveillance death count was based on positive tests at around 140,600. However, the number of death certificates that mention Covid is much higher at approximately 164,500. This higher number could still be misleading, as the new disease is often not diagnosed in its early stages.

An alternative method is to calculate the excess relative to the normal number of people who die in normal circumstances. This is more reliable. While pandemics can increase deaths due to other causes (e.g. disruptions in healthcare), restrictions and behavioral changes can help reduce these deaths. The Office for National Statistics uses a 2015-2019 average as a baseline. However, recent weeks have shown a worrying increase in deaths that are not related to Covid. The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries adjust for changes in population to create a new baseline. This yields less than 100 non-Covid deaths per week.

The Economist created a model that estimates global excess deaths to get an unanswered question. Russia reported 230,000 Covid deaths but could have up to four times as many excess deaths. India's excess mortality, which was ravaged by the Delta variant, is approximately 10 times greater than its Covid surveillance death count, which is 460,000. However, the uncertainty interval is large (three to 16 fold higher). This analysis is hindered by inadequate death records. The UN statistics division estimates that less than seven out of 10 territories have more coverage than 90%.

According to the Economists model, there will be an additional 10 to 19 million deaths worldwide during a pandemic. Although five million deaths sounds terrible, humanity has already passed this milestone.