FlyTitle: Coronavirus statistics

The death toll from covid-19 appears higher than official figures suggest


经济学人双语版-致命差错 Fatal flaws

THE SPREAD of covid-19 is most often measured by two numbers: how many people are infected, and how many have died. The first is very uncertain. Some carriers show no symptoms, and most countries do not test people who seem healthy. Because data on infections are unreliable, researchers have focused on deaths. Yet new statistics suggest that current fatality numbers may also understate the damage.


Official death tolls for covid-19 may exclude people who died before they could be tested. They also ignore people who succumbed to other causes, perhaps because hospitals had no room to treat them. The latter group has been large in other disasters. For example, when Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in 2017, America recorded only 64 deaths. A study later found that the surge in total deaths was close to 3,000. Many occurred in hospitals that lost power.


Such analysis is not yet possible for nations battling covid-19. The only European country whose total death rate (as calculated by EuroMOMO, a research group) had spiked by March 20th was Italy. This estimate is based on a group of cities. Unfortunately, Italy does not break down covid-19 deaths by city, precluding a comparison of covid-19 and total deaths in the same area.


However, journalists and scholars have crunched their own numbers. L’Eco di Bergamo, a newspaper, has obtained data from 82 localities in Italy’s Bergamo province. In March these places had 2,420 more deaths than in March 2019. Just 1,140, less than half of the increase, were attributed to covid-19. “The data is the tip of the iceberg,” Giorgio Gori, the mayor of Bergamo’s capital, told L’Eco. “Too many victims are not included in the reports because they die at home.”

不过,记者和学者们自行分析了数据。《贝加莫生态报》(L’Eco di Bergamo)拿到了意大利贝加莫省82个地方的数据。这些地方今年3月的死亡人数比2019年3月多了2420人。其中只有1140人被归为因新冠肺炎死亡,不到新增人数的一半。“这个数据只是冰山一角。”贝加莫省省会的市长乔治·戈里(Giorgio Gori)告诉《生态报》。“太多病亡者没有包含在统计数字里,因为他们死在了家中。”

Comparable figures can be found across Europe. In Spain El País, a newspaper, has published the results of a study by the government’s health research centre, showing that “excess” deaths in the Castile-La Mancha region were double the number attributed to covid-19. Jean-Marc Manach, a French reporter, has found a similar disparity in the department of Haut-Rhin.

欧洲各地都能找到类似的数据。西班牙《国家报》(El País)发表了该国政府下属医疗研究中心的一项研究结果,显示卡斯蒂利亚-拉曼查地区的“超量”死亡数是新冠肺炎统计死亡人数的两倍。法国记者让-马克·马纳赫(Jean-Marc Manach)在上莱茵省也发现了类似的差异。

These differences may shrink over time. Official counts of covid-19 fatalities could be updated to include people who have already died, because confirming the cause sometimes takes several days. The toll from other types of death might fall soon: lockdowns could reduce accidents and violence, and many frail covid-19 victims were already likely to die of other causes. And mortality data are noisy in smaller regions—especially hard-hit ones that may not be representative of entire countries.


Still, the official covid-19 count will always seem too low in places like Nembro, a Bergamasque town of 11,000 people. It suffered 152 deaths in March, with only 39 attributed to the virus so far. “Almost all the old people got it,” says Luca Foresti, a researcher. “And therefore they died, a lot.”■

尽管如此,像有1.1万人口的贝加莫小镇嫩布罗(Nembro)这样的地方,官方公布的新冠死亡数字终归显得太少了。今年3月该地有152人死亡,目前仅有39人被认定死于新冠病毒。“几乎所有的老年人都感染了,”研究人员卢卡·佛雷斯蒂(Luca Foresti)说,“他们因此去世了。很多人。”