The COVID-19 pandemic directly or indirectly caused 14.9 million deaths in 2020 and 2021, the World Health Organization said on Thursday, in its newest attempt to quantify the outbreak's terrible toll.
That's around 2.7 times more than the 5.42 million COVID-19 deaths the WHO says were previously reported through official channels in the same 2-year period.
Here's a rundown of four main points in WHO's report:
Overall, deaths are far higher than those in official reportsIn its tally, WHO aims to quantify "excess mortality," accounting for people who lost their lives either directly, because of contracting COVID-19, or indirectly, because they weren't able to get treatment or preventive care for other health conditions. The figure also takes into account the deaths that analysts say were prevented because of the pandemic's wide-ranging effects, such as curtailing traffic and travel.
The pandemic's current reported death toll is 6.2 million, according to Johns Hopkins University's COVID-19 tracker.
India is seen suffering a much deeper loss than reported — a finding that India disputesIn some cases, WHO's figures depict a shockingly wide gulf between official figures and its experts' findings. That's particularly true for India, where WHO says millions more people died because of the pandemic than has been officially reported.
India reported 481,000 COVID-19 deaths in 2020 and 2021. But William Msemburi, technical officer for WHO's department of data and analytics, said on Thursday that the toll is vastly higher, with 4.74 million deaths either directly or indirectly attributable to the pandemic — although Msemburi said that figure has a wide "uncertainty interval," ranging from as low as 3.3 million to as high as 6.5 million.
The data behind the staggering figures promise to expand the understanding of the pandemic's true effects. But the findings are also a flashpoint in debates over how to account for unreported coronavirus deaths. India, for instance, is rejecting WHO's findings.
India "strongly objects to use of mathematical models for projecting excess mortality estimates," the country's health ministry said on Thursday, insisting that WHO should instead rely on "authentic data" it has provided.
10 countries accounted for a large share of deathsDeaths were not evenly distributed around the world. The WHO says about 84% of the excess deaths were concentrated in three regions: Southeast Asia, Europe and the Americas.
And about 68% of the excess deaths were identified in just 10 countries. WHO listed them in alphabetical order: Brazil, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Turkey and the United States.
Overall, WHO found the number of excess deaths was much closer to reported COVID-19 deaths in high-income countries than in lower income countries.
Many countries still lack reliable health statisticsThe WHO says it relied on statistical models to derive its estimates, looking to fill in gaps in official data.
"Prior to the pandemic, we estimate that 6 out of every 10 deaths were unregistered" worldwide, said Stephen MacFeely, director of WHO's department of data and analytics. "In fact, more than 70 countries do not produce any cause of death statistics. In the 21st century, this is a shocking statistic."
By creating its report on excess mortality, WHO is pursuing several goals, such as urging governments to improve their health-care interventions for vulnerable populations and to adopt more rigorous and transparent reporting standards.
"Knowing how many people died due to the pandemic will help us to be better prepared for the next," said Samira Asma, WHO's assistant director-general for data and analytics.
A superyacht that American authorities say is owned by a Russian oligarch previously sanctioned for alleged money laundering has been seized by law enforcement in Fiji, the U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday.
A judge in Fiji earlier in the week permitted U.S. authorities to seize the yacht Amadea — worth $325 million — but also put his order temporarily on hold while defense lawyers mounted a challenge.
The Justice Department said authorities in Fiji, acting at the request of the United States, have now served a search warrant freezing the yacht, which had earlier been prevented from leaving the South Pacific nation.
American officials say the 348-foot vessel belongs to Suleiman Kerimov, an economist and former Russian politician who was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2018 and has faced further censure from Canada, Europe, Britain and other nations after Russia invaded Ukraine.
Kerimov made a fortune investing in Russian gold producer Polyus, with Forbes magazine putting his net worth at $14.5 billion.
Defense lawyers had claimed the yacht actually belonged to another Russian oligarch.
In an application in support of the search warrant, an FBI agent wrote that there was probable cause to believe that Kerimov had owned the Amadea since 2021. The vessel, which is flagged in the Cayman Islands, had turned off its automated information system on Feb. 24, the day Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.