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The World Mortality Dataset: Tracking excess mortality across countries during the COVID-19 pandemic

By Ariel Karlinsky, Dmitry Kobak

Posted 29 Jan 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.01.27.21250604

Comparing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic between countries or across time is difficult because the reported numbers of cases and deaths can be strongly affected by testing capacity and reporting policy. Excess mortality, defined as the increase in all-cause mortality relative to the recent average, is widely considered as a more objective indicator of the COVID-19 death toll. However, there has been no central, frequently-updated repository of the all-cause mortality data across countries. To fill this gap, we have collected weekly, monthly, or quarterly all-cause mortality data from 77 countries, openly available as the regularly-updated World Mortality Dataset. We used this dataset to compute the excess mortality in each country during the COVID-19 pandemic. We found that in the worst-affected countries the annual mortality increased by over 50%, while in several other countries it decreased by over 5%, presumably due to lockdown measures decreasing the non-COVID mortality. Moreover, we found that while some countries have been reporting the COVID-19 deaths very accurately, many countries have been underreporting their COVID-19 deaths by an order of magnitude or more. Averaging across the entire dataset suggests that the world's COVID-19 death toll may be at least 1.6 times higher than the reported number of confirmed deaths.

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