India’s COVID death toll could rise to millions

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India’s excessive death toll during the pandemic could represent 10 times the official toll of COVID-19, possibly making it the worst human tragedy in modern India, according to the most comprehensive research to date into the ravages of the virus in the South Asian country.

Most experts believe India’s official death toll of over 414,000 dead is a vast understatement, but the government has dismissed these concerns as exaggerated and misleading.

The report released on Tuesday estimated the number of excessive deaths – the gap between those recorded and those that would have been expected – at 3 million to 4.7 million between January 2020 and June 2021. He said a precise figure could ” prove elusive “, but the real death toll” is likely to be an order of magnitude greater than the official tally “.

A man runs to escape the heat emitted by the multiple funeral pyres of COVID-19 victims at a crematorium on the outskirts of New Delhi, India on April 29.
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A man runs to escape the heat emitted by the multiple funeral pyres of COVID-19 victims at a crematorium on the outskirts of New Delhi, India on April 29.
(PA)

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The report was published by Arvind Subramanian, former chief economic adviser to the Indian government, and two other researchers from the Center for Global Development, a Washington-based nonprofit think tank at Harvard University.

He said the tally could have missed deaths in overwhelmed hospitals or while healthcare was disrupted, especially during the devastating virus outbreak earlier this year.

“The real deaths are likely to number in the millions, not the hundreds of thousands, making it arguably India’s worst human tragedy since partition and independence,” the report said.

The partition of the Indian subcontinent under British rule into independent India and Pakistan in 1947 resulted in the deaths of up to 1 million people as gangs of Hindus and Muslims killed each other.

The report on the number of viruses in India used three methods of calculation: data from the vital statistics system which records births and deaths in seven states; blood tests showing the prevalence of the virus in India as well as global death rates from COVID-19; and an economic survey of nearly 900,000 people carried out three times a year.

The researchers warned that each method had weaknesses, such as the economic survey omitting causes of death.

A man in protective gear digs the earth to bury the body of a person who died of COVID-19 in Gauhati, India on April 25.  (AP)

A man in protective gear digs the earth to bury the body of a person who died of COVID-19 in Gauhati, India on April 25. (AP)

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Instead, the researchers looked at deaths from all causes and compared that data to mortality from previous years – a method widely considered to be an accurate measure.

The researchers also warned that the virus’s prevalence and deaths from COVID-19 in the seven states they studied may not translate across India as the virus could have spread further in urban states. than rural and since the quality of health care varies considerably in India.

Other countries are also believed to have underestimated deaths from the pandemic. But India is believed to have a bigger gap due to its second-largest global population of 1.4 billion and the fact that not all deaths were recorded even before the pandemic.

The Department of Health did not immediately respond to an Associated Press request for comment on the report.

Dr Jacob John, who studies viruses at Christian Medical College in Vellore in southern India and was not part of the research, reviewed the report for the PA and said it highlighted the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the country’s under-prepared health system.

“This analysis reiterates the observations of other intrepid investigative journalists who have highlighted the massive undercoverage of deaths,” said Jacob.

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The report also estimated that nearly 2 million Indians died in the first wave of infections last year and said failure to “grasp the scale of the tragedy in real time” could have “engender a collective complacency which led to the horrors” of the wave earlier this year.

In recent months, some Indian states have increased their death toll from COVID-19 after finding thousands of previously unreported cases, raising fears that many more deaths have not been officially recorded.

Several Indian journalists have also published higher figures from some states using government data. Scientists say this new information is helping them better understand how COVID-19 spread in India.

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Murad Banaji, who studies mathematics at Middlesex University and has looked at COVID-19 mortality figures in India, said recent data has confirmed some of the suspicions of underestimation. Banaji said the new data also shows that the virus was not confined to urban centers, as contemporary reports indicated, and villages in India were also hit hard.

“One question we should ask ourselves is whether some of these deaths were preventable,” he said.

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