Peru says that its Covid-19 death toll is almost three times as high as it had officially counted until now, making it one of the hardest-hit nations relative to its population.
In a report released on Monday that combined deaths from multiple databases and reclassified fatalities, the government said that 180,764 people had died from Covid-19 through May 22, almost triple the official death toll of about 68,000. The new figure would mean that more people have died in Peru relative to its population than in Hungary and the Czech Republic, the countries with the highest official death tolls per person, according to a New York Times database.
The report landed at a precarious moment for Peru’s government, just days before the second round of a closely watched presidential election.
Peru has struggled to contain the coronavirus since the pandemic began, and its official death toll before the revised estimate was already the ninth highest per capita in the world. As early as last June, far more deaths were occurring there than would be expected in a normal year, and the gap — a figure known as excess deaths — was much larger than the number of deaths officially attributed to Covid-19, according to New York Times data. That was a warning sign to experts that Covid deaths were being undercounted.
William Pan, who teaches global environmental health at Duke University, said the pandemic had underscored the deep inequality and corruption in Peru.
“Long before the stories of oxygen shortages in India and Manaus, Iquitos experienced this sad reality of Covid,” said Dr. Pan, referring to the largest Peruvian city in the Amazon. “Thousands of people were being turned away last April and May due to lack of oxygen, lack of space, medical staff being totally overwhelmed and more.”
Peru could be the first of several nations forced to reckon with a re-evaluation of the pandemic’s true impact. The World Health Organization said in May that deaths from Covid-19 globally were probably much higher than had been recorded.
Peru’s government will start publishing more accurate daily tallies of cases and deaths based on new guidelines laid out in the report, said Oscar Ugarte, the health minister.
The pandemic has intensified the political turmoil in Peru, which was rocked by the impeachment of President Martín Vizcarra in November. He was one of four presidents to serve in five years, three of whom spent time in jail during bribery investigations.
The virus is spreading faster in South America than on any other continent, according to official data, with five nations among the top 10 globally for new cases reported per person. Its worst outbreak is in Argentina, which was supposed to host the Copa América soccer tournament, before organizers announced that they were moving it to Brazil.