COVID-19 killed 13.3 to 16.6 million people in 2020 and 2021, the WHO has estimated, more than double the official death toll of around 6 million.
"New estimates from the World Health Organization show that the full death toll associated directly or indirectly with the COVID-19 pandemic between January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2021 was approximately 14.9 million (range 13.3 million to 16.6 million)," the UN health agency said on Thursday.
"These sobering data not only point to the impact of the pandemic but also to the need for all countries to invest in more resilient health systems that can sustain essential health services during crises, including stronger health information systems," said WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus.
The figure calculates what is termed as excess mortality, which is calculated as the difference between the number of deaths and the number that would be expected in the absence of the pandemic, based on data from earlier years.
It includes deaths associated with COVID-19 directly, due to the disease, and indirectly due to the pandemic's impact on health systems and society.
Countries around the world reported 5.42 million virus deaths to the WHO in 2020 and 2021, a figure that today stands at 6.24 million, including deaths in 2022.
Most of the excess deaths (84%) are concentrated in South-East Asia, Europe, and the Americas, and 10 countries alone accounted for 68% of all excess deaths.
William Msemburi, a WHO technical officer in the data and analytics department, said the excess estimate represents 9.5 million more deaths, or 2.75 times more deaths than reported.
“We found that the global death toll is higher for men than for women. So 57% are male and 43% female," he said. "We also estimate that this toll is higher among older adults, with 82% of excess deaths are estimated to be above the age of 60.”