Italy 2020 death toll is highest since World War Two as COVID-19 hits

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Bergamo, the northern Italian town at the epicentre of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak

ROME (Reuters) - Italy registered more deaths in 2020 than in any other year since World War Two, according to data that suggest COVID-19 caused thousands more fatalities than were officially attributed to it.

Total deaths in Italy last year amounted to 746,146, statistics bureau ISTAT said, an increase of 100,525, or 15.6%, compared with the average of the 2015-2019 period.

Looking at the period from when Italy's COVID-19 outbreak came to light on Feb. 21 to the end of the year, the "excess deaths" were even higher at 108,178, an increase of 21% over the same period of the last five years.

The Istituto Superiore di Sanita, Italy's top health institute, officially attributed 75,891 deaths to the new coronavirus last year, some 70% of this total excess mortality.

Italy has continued to register hundreds of COVID-19 deaths per day this year. Its updated tally stood at 98,974 on Thursday.

Officially, COVID-19 accounted for 10% of deaths in Italy last year from Feb. 21, with marked regional disparities.

It was the cause of 14.5% of all deaths in the northern regions where the outbreak was first reported in Italy. In central areas it was responsible for 7% of all deaths and in southern ones it accounted for 5%.

Of the 100,525 excess deaths last year, 76% of the total were among people over the age of 80 and 20% were among those aged between 65 and 79, ISTAT said.

(Reporting By Gavin Jones, Editing by Timothy Heritage)