India's Covid death toll could be TEN TIMES higher than official data

India’s Covid-19 death toll could be TEN TIMES higher than official figure, a new study suggests, predicting as many as 4.7 million fatalities

  • Nearly 415,000 coronavirus fatalities have been reported by authorities in India
  • But the study suggests that the true figure is between 3.4 and 4.7 million deaths
  • If correct, it would be India’s worst humanitarian crisis since the 1947 partition 
  • India has previously called higher excess-death predictions ‘speculative’
  • Country of 1.3 billion has only vaccinated just over 8 percent of eligible adults

India’s coronavirus death toll is up to 10 times higher than the nearly 415,000 fatalities reported by authorities, likely making it the country’s worst humanitarian disaster since independence, a US research group said Tuesday.

The Center for Global Development study’s estimate is the highest yet for the carnage in the South Asian nation of 1.3 billion people, which is emerging from a devastating surge partly fuelled by the Delta variant in April and May.

The study – which analysed data from the start of the pandemic to June this year – suggested that between 3.4 million and 4.7 million people had died from the virus.

India’s official Covid-19 death toll of just over 414,000 is the world’s third-highest after the US’ 609,000 fatalities and Brazil’s 542,000. During India’s most deadly phase of the pandemic in May, over 4,000 deaths were being reported each day – more than any other country. However a new report suggests the true death toll could be as high as 4.7 million

India’s second wave saw a devastating surge partly fuelled by the Delta variant in April and May, resulting in more 300,000 new cases reported each day (pictured)

‘True deaths are likely to be in the several millions, not hundreds of thousands, making this arguably India’s worst human tragedy since partition and independence,’ the researchers said. 

After the sub-continent’s partition in 1947 into mainly Hindu India and Muslim-majority Pakistan, sectarian bloodshed killed hundreds of thousands of people. Some estimates say up to two million died, and 10 to 20 million displaced.

India’s official Covid-19 death toll of just over 414,000 is the world’s third-highest after the United States’ 609,000 fatalities and Brazil’s 542,000. 

A devastating rise in infections in April and May, driven largely by the more infectious and dangerous Delta variant, overwhelmed India’s healthcare system and killed at least 170,000 people in May alone, according to official data. 

At the most deadly point of India’s outbreak in May, it was officially reporting over 4,000 deaths a day, a rate not seen anywhere else in the world since the start of the global pandemic.

Experts have been casting doubt on India’s toll for months, blaming the already overstretched health service.

Pictured: Multiple funeral pyres of those who died of COVID-19 burn at a ground that has been converted into a crematorium, April 24, 2021. India’s coronavirus death toll is up to 10 times higher than the nearly 415,000 fatalities reported by authorities, a new study has claimed

Several Indian states have revised their virus tolls in recent weeks, adding thousands of ‘backlog’ deaths.

The Center for Global Development report was based on estimating ‘excess mortality’, the number of extra people who died compared with pre-crisis figures.

The authors – who included Arvind Subramanian, a former chief government economic adviser – did this partly by analysing death registrations in some states as well as a recurring national economic study.

They also compared surveys of the spread of Covid-19 in India with international death rates.

The researchers, which also included a Harvard University expert, acknowledged that estimating mortality with statistical confidence was difficult.

‘(But) all estimates suggest that the death toll from the pandemic is likely to be an order of magnitude greater than the official count,’ they said. 

Pictured: A man in protective suit digs earth to bury the body of a person who died of COVID-19 in Gauhati, India, April 25, 2021. The new study – which analysed data from the start of the pandemic to June this year – suggested that between 3.4 million and 4.7 million people had died from the virus

Christophe Guilmoto, a specialist in Indian demography at France’s Research Institute for Development, this month estimated that the death toll was nearer 2.2 million by late May.

India’s death rate per million was nearly half the world average and Guilmoto said ‘such a low figure contradicts the apparent severity of a crisis that has struck most Indian families across the country’.

Guilmoto’s team concluded that only one coronavirus death in seven was recorded.

A model by the US-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimated that the Covid toll could be more than 1.25 million.

India’s health ministry last month slammed The Economist magazine for publishing a story that said excess deaths were between five and seven times higher than the official toll, calling it ‘speculative’ and ‘misinformed’.

A World Health Organization report in May said up to three times more people had died around the globe during the pandemic – from coronavirus or other causes – than indicated by official statistics.

Pictured: Funeral pyres of twenty-five COVID-19 victims burn at an open crematorium set up at a granite quarry on the outskirts of Bengaluru, India, May 5, 2021

Some experts have said excess deaths are the best way to measure the real toll from COVID-19.

The New York Times said the most conservative estimate of deaths in India was 600,000 and the worst case scenario several times that number. The government also dismissed those figures.

Health experts have said the undercounting is largely because of scarce resources in India’s vast hinterland where two-thirds of the population lives, and because many have died at home without being tested.

India has reported a decline in daily infections from a peak in May, logging its lowest daily count in four months on Tuesday at 30,093 fresh cases.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has also been criticised for a messy vaccination campaign that many say contributed to the worsening of the second wave of infections.

India has so far only vaccinated just over 8 percent of eligible adults with the mandatory two doses.

In July, the government administered fewer than 4 million doses per day on average, versus a record 9.2 million doses on June 21, when Modi flagged off a campaign to inoculate the country’s 950 million adults for free.

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