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What’s meant by number of reported deaths?

The dashboard gives a daily update on the number of reported deaths from COVID-19. But this figure does not say how many people have died from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours. Why is that?

A nurse puts a hand on a patient's hand

This article explains the 'Deaths' page on the dashboard. You will also find the most recent figures there.

The majority of people testing positive for coronavirus have only mild symptoms. Unfortunately, however, some people die from COVID-19, older people in particular. People over the age of 70 have a much higher risk of dying from the virus.

Reported deaths

This image shows the number of COVID-19 deaths and total number of reported deaths from COVID-19.

The screenshot on the left shows the daily number of deaths reported to the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) by the municipal health services (GGDs). These are notifications of deaths. The date on which a death is reported is not the same as the actual date of death. It usually takes several days before hospitals, nursing homes and general practitioners have notified the GGD of a death. So not every COVID-19 death is entered into the GGD’s system immediately. As a result, a death that occurred on Monday may not be included in the Tuesday figure.

It’s possible for no deaths to be reported at all on a given day, even though people died the day before. Sometimes there may be a considerable delay in reporting deaths, for example due to problems with the computer system. In that case, the figure for daily reported deaths will also include deaths that occurred several weeks earlier.

The dashboard also shows total number of reported deaths since the start of the pandemic. See the screenshot to the right.

Actual number of COVID-19 deaths is higher

The actual number of deaths from COVID-19 is higher than the dashboard shows. There are two reasons for this. First, doctors are only required to notify the GGD of patients with confirmed COVID-19. There is no requirement to report COVID-19 deaths. Patients with COVID-19 can spread the virus, and thus pose a risk to others. If a patient dies, they are no longer infectious.

Second, people may also die from COVID-19 without having been tested. This was mainly the case during the first wave of the pandemic in the spring of 2020. The exact number of COVID-19 deaths in this period is thus unknown.

Another way of estimating the number of COVID-19 deaths is to look at the number of deaths in excess of the expected mortality rate. This article tells you more about the figure for excess deaths.