How Many People Will Coronavirus Kill?

A million? 100 million?


As The Atlantic puts it, you are likely to get the coronavirus. According to leading epidemiologists, we are looking at more than half the world catching the disease. COVID-19 is no longer contained. The question now is what will it do?

The current estimate is that the disease kills around 2% of symptomatic cases. Multiply that by half the world and you get a lot of death (77 million to be exact), but it’s not that simple.

There are still enough unknowns that the death toll could range from 1-100 million. Hopefully less, but unlikely. If you watch Netflix’s Pandemic, the scientists often talk about the ‘big one’ that’s guaranteed to come. This is it.

What If It’s As Bad As The Flu?

The best case is that COVID-19 is like a bad flu season. The flu kills around 400,000 people every year, most of them 67 or older. It has an estimated mortality rate of 0.1%. So far this novel coronavirus is 20x more deadly, but perhaps we’re undercounting asymptomatic cases, or we’ll manage treatment better. If it kills just 0.1% of the infected, how many people would that be?

This graph lets you see the number of dead at different rates of infection. If 60% of the world is infected, as Prof Gabriel Leung has said, then we’re looking at over 5 million deaths. Even if we manage to contain this to swine flu levels, we’re still looking at 1–2 million deaths.

This seems crazy, unless you remember that the flu is killing nearly half that on the regular. This is basically our best-case scenario. A double flu season, which could also keep coming back until we develop a vaccine.

What If It’s Worse?

So far, however, this novel coronavirus seems much more deadly than the flu. The general estimate is 2%, and this graph lets you see the death count around that range (from 1% to 3%). As…



Indrajit (Indi) Samarajiva is a Sri Lankan writer. Follow me at, or just email me at