A hospital in the Italian region f Lombardy, which has been hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: AFP
Scientific experts and even the Italian health authorities themselves have said since April that the country's official death toll was likely to be underestimated.
Italy was not the only country to have failed to fully account for deaths linked to the coronavirus.
Other studies showed that the United States, Peru and Mexico City were among those which largely under-reported the number of people who died from the disease.
In New York, for example, the number of deaths tripled last spring but 22 percent of excess deaths had not been officially reported as coronavirus cases, due to a lack of testing.
To calculate the real toll of the pandemic, demographers and other researchers used not only the number of cases confirmed by tests but also looked at official mortality statistics, based on death certificates, and compared them to previous years, a method often used in researching flu
The results published Monday in the US medical journal “Jama Internal Medicine” showed the devastating toll of the virus in Italy, the first country to bear the full brunt of the pandemic in Europe.
Some Italian hospitals were overwhelmed by the number of Covid-19 cases being admitted in March 2020. Photo: AFP
On April 4th, Italy said it had officially recorded just over 15,000 deaths from Covid-19.
Between March 1st and April 4th, a total of 41,329 people died in Italy, officials figures show – roughly 20,000 more than in the five preceding years.
That marked an increased mortality of 104.5 percent and suggested there were more than 5,000
deaths missing from the toll attributed to the coronavirus.
The only deaths officially ascribed to Covid-19 at the time were recorded at hospitals and, to a lesser extent, in nursing homes, which would explain the shortfall in the tally.
In Lombardy, the worst-hit region, excess deaths reach 173 percent compared to previous years, a rate which rose to 213 percent among men in the region.
With generalized testing, it becomes easier to count deaths linked to the epidemic in real time.
That is what has since happened in New York, where the gap between the official and the real death tolls has all but disappeared.
Experts in Italy and elsewhere have long said that as testing increases the Covid-19 fatality rate would become more accurate.