Study: India Coronavirus Deaths Likely 10 Times Higher than Official Tally

In this picture taken on June 1, 2021 a doctor (C) checks on a Covid-19 coronavirus patient at an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Nightingale Hospital, on the outskirts of Siliguri. - Struggling with low pay, 24-hour shifts, and a severe shortage of staff and protective gear, doctors working …
DIPTENDU DUTTA/AFP via Getty Images

India’s Chinese coronavirus death toll over the past year and a half could be up to ten times greater than the 414,000 deaths officially reported by New Delhi, researchers at Harvard University and the Center for Global Development estimated in a study published on Tuesday.

“[A]ctual deaths during the Covid [Chinese coronavirus] pandemic are likely to have been an order of magnitude greater than the official count. True deaths are likely to be in the several millions not hundreds of thousands,” the study’s authors wrote.

Researchers based the study on estimates of “all-cause excess mortality” in India, or the difference between the numbers of deaths officially recorded in a time period and the number of deaths expected for the same time period based on pre-pandemic figures. The study estimated that three million to 4.7 million excess deaths occurred in India between January 2020 and the end of June 2021.

“[R]esearchers looked at deaths from all causes and compared that data to mortality in previous years,” the Associated Press (AP) reported on Tuesday.

“The report on India’s virus toll used three calculation methods: data from the civil registration system that records births and deaths across seven states, blood tests showing the prevalence of the virus in India alongside global COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] fatality rates, and an economic survey of nearly 900,000 people done thrice a year,” according to the news agency.

“Researchers cautioned that each method had weaknesses, such as the economic survey omitting the causes of death,” the AP noted. The study’s authors “also cautioned that virus prevalence and COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] deaths in the seven states they studied may not translate to all of India, since the virus could have spread more in urban versus rural states and since health care quality varies greatly around India.”

Arvind Subramanian, a former chief economic adviser for the Indian government, co-authored the July 20 study, titled Three New Estimates of Deaths in India during the Pandemic, along with two additional researchers associated with the Center for Global Development, a nonprofit think tank based in Washington, DC, and Harvard University.

India’s health ministry recently refuted a June 10 report by the Economist that claimed India’s Chinese coronavirus death toll could be “five to seven times” higher than the official government tally. India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said the article “is without any basis and seems to be misinformed” in a press release issued June 12.

“The unsound analysis of the said article is based on extrapolation of data without any epidemiological evidence,” the statement read.

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