Number of deaths due to Covid-19 during the second wave in April and May is likely to be higher than 1.69 lakh — the official Covid-19 death count for the two months reported by state governments to the Centre.
According to an exclusive investigation by The Indian Express there is an undercount. But exactly how much may never be known — it can only be estimated and, that too, in at least a year given the way India counts its dead.
As part of the investigation, the newspaper approached several state governments of whom eight — these account for almost a third of all Covid deaths as of last week — provided records of deaths they have registered in April and May this year as per the Civil Registration System (CRS).
According to a separate report by The Hindu, excess deaths registered during the pandemic period, based on the CRS data from eight States, was 8.22 times the recorded covid-19 death toll.
A third report said India’s excess deaths during the Covid pandemic could be between 3.4 to 4.9 million.
The report, which was released on last Tuesday, is co-authored by India’s former chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian, Justin Sandefur from the US-based think-tank Center for Global Development and Abhishek Anand from Harvard University.
Estimating Covid-deaths with statistical confidence may prove elusive. But all estimates suggest that the death toll from the pandemic is likely to be an order of magnitude greater than the official count of 400,000, the authors said.
Excess deaths between January 2020 and June 2021 are between 3.4 million to 4.9 million, they estimate.
Excess deaths are additional deaths recorded during a pandemic, as compared to a corresponding period in pre-pandemic years, and could be a potential indicator of undercounting in India’s Covid toll.
Refuting media reports, the government on Thursday said the reports assume that all excess mortality figures are Covid deaths, which is not based on facts and totally fallacious.
Given the robust and statute-based death registration system in India, while some cases could go undetected as per the principles of infectious disease and its management, missing out on the deaths is unlikely, the Union Health Ministry said.
‘The extrapolation of deaths has been done on an audacious assumption that the likelihood of any given infected person dying is the same across countries, dismissing the interplay between various direct and indirect factors such as race, ethnicity, genomic constitution of a population, previous exposure levels to other diseases and the associated immunity developed in that population,’ the statement said.