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Since the start of the pandemic, over 26,000 Canadians have died from COVID-19, according to government statistics. While that’s a devastating count, a new study says the true number of Canadians who have lost their lives due to COVID may vastly exceed the official toll.

A new report by the Royal Society of Canada, published Tuesday, estimates that between February 1 and November 28, 2020, about 6,000 deaths of people aged 45 and older caused directly by COVID-19 went unreported in the official statistics. It goes on to suggest that if Canada continued to miss these fatalities at the same rate since last November, the number of deaths might be two times higher than originally reported.

Dr. Tara Moriarty, working group lead for the report, said in an interview that while most accounts have put the majority of deaths in long-term care, new data suggests the toll of COVID-19 was also heavily felt outside the homes in the community.

“If we’d had some sense early on of who was dying where, if we had had a sense of just how many deaths were actually occurring … maybe people would have started looking sooner or listening sooner to people in communities who were saying, ‘It’s really really bad here, people are dying,”’ Moriarty said.

According to the study, there is an assumption that 80 percent of Canada’s deaths due to COVID-19 occurred among older adult residents of long-term care homes, but a thorough analysis of all cases and deaths have revealed that at least two-thirds of the deaths caused by COVID-19 in communities outside of the long-term care sector may have been missed.

The study points out that a great number of those deaths likely occurred in lower-income, racialized communities and affected essential workers, new immigrants, and people living in multigenerational homes, as well as clinically seniors living at home.

The Royal Society of Canada’s conclusions come from the best reports available of excess deaths across the country, based on the pattern of COVID-19 fatalities during the pandemic, cremation data showing a significant spike in at-home versus hospital deaths in 2020, and antibody surveillance testing.

The report demands urgent and further investigation to accurately understand the real COVID-19 death toll in Canada.