Economic News

World Health Organization raises the death-rate of COVID-19

The death rate of COVID-19 is higher than influenza, though much lower than earlier epidemics that had far less socio-economic impact, such as SARS, MERS, and Ebola. I originally reported that virologists and epidemiologists thought it likely that COVID-19’s death rate would drop as more became known about the disease, but the World Health Organization (WHO) has slightly raised the death rate from the 2.9% that I originally reported to 3.4%. Yet, the rate varies a lot:

Even on the infected Diamond Princess cruise ship, where the skew was towards more elderly patients, only 6 died out of the 707 reported cases (0.8%), indicating that access to adequate healthcare plays a huge role in saving lives and keeping fatality rates at a minimum.

Seeking Alpha

SARS, MERS and Ebola have death rates of 9.6%, 34% and 90% respectively, but they are less contagious. The Spanish Flu — the influenza pandemic that killed tens of millions in 1918 — was about equally contagious and had a slightly lower estimated death rate of 3%; but it also happened in a time when there were no antiviral medicines, no hope of a vaccine, and almost no antibiotics.

WHO now says this coronavirus infection rate (as opposed to death rate) was thought to be the same as the flu when the virus was only known in China but has since been found to be two to three times that infectious. WHO, however, also rejects what it claims are unsubstantiated concerns that the number of infected in China is much greater than the number China reported:

Bruce Aylward, who led an international mission to China to learn about the virus and China’s response, said the specialists did not see evidence that a large number of mild cases of the novel disease called Covid-19 are evading detection.


I don’t suppose that matters, as people who want to believe the worst will accept WHOs upgrade of how infectious and fatal the disease is but reject its assessment of how accurate Chinese reporting has been. To address that, I’ll note that the reason WHO stated China was not missing any significant number of cases was to form the basis for WHO’s revised opinion that the disease has a higher death rate than thought.

Initially, WHO thought many cases were not being detected because they were mild and that detection of more mild cases would result in a lower death rate over time because the people with mild cases don’t die. So, WHO does not appear to be trying to tamp down fears when they are saying China’s count of total cases is right as their basis for publicly increasing the death rate. People are not exactly going to become calmer because they now realize the death rate is two to three times higher than originally reported.

While WHO is raising the death rate and their official infection rate, not all experts agree with WHO’s assessment that there are not many undetected mild cases in China. Time will tell, I guess..

Also, I originally reported that influenza has a death rate of about 1% because several sites stated that in my research. However, I more recently came across other sites saying it was 0.1%. Since I was somewhat suspicious of a rate as high as 1% when I first reported that, I ran the math myself, and what I see in statistical reports of total illnesses and total deaths each year matches with those sites that say 0.1% (See my now corrected article: “The True Danger of Coronavirus (COVID-19): What are the real risks of infection, death and a global pandemic?“)

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