On Tuesday, the Center for Global Development released a chilling report suggesting that the COVID-19 death toll may in India may total more than 4 million from January 2020 to June 2021. Analysts cited the country’s population density and third-world health care system as the primary contributing factors to this horrific death toll.
The staggering estimated toll far exceeds the “official” death toll of 414,000 and could be an order of magnitude higher — 10 times the official number.
Analysts measured excess deaths — the gap between those recorded and those that would have been expected. It found 3 million to 4.7 million excess deaths.
The report was published by Arvind Subramanian, the Indian government’s former chief economic adviser, and two other researchers at the Center for Global Development, a nonprofit think tank based in Washington, and Harvard University.
It said the count could have missed deaths that occurred in overwhelmed hospitals or while health care was disrupted, particularly during the devastating virus surge earlier this year.
“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 report said.
The Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 led to the deaths of more than a million people as gangs of Hindus and Muslims slaughtered each other. Even worse, the partition caused 10 to 20 million people to flee their homes, creating the worst refugee crisis in history.
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 fatality rates, and an economic survey of nearly 900,000 people done thrice a year.
Researchers cautioned that each method had weaknesses, such as the economic survey omitting the causes of death.
Instead, researchers looked at deaths from all causes and compared that data to mortality in previous years — a method widely considered an accurate metric.
India isn’t the only country to cook the books on deaths from COVID-19. China, Russia, and Brazil have all been caught vastly undercounting the death toll from the coronavirus. In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a laissez-faire attitude toward virus mitigation efforts. Even at the height of the pandemic, he refused common-sense efforts to stem the tide of infections.
The virus spread so quickly in India that it may have led to the creation of the so-called “Delta Variant” of the virus that is currently worrying public health officials in the West. In the United States, the variant has led to a doubling of positive coronavirus tests in the last month but a far lower rate of increase in hospitalizations and deaths. California and Las Vegas have both mandated mask-wearing with New York City and other large cities seriously contemplating the measure.
The tragedy in India may not have been preventable given the population density and economic factors that forced tens of millions of poverty-stricken Indians to work even at the height of the pandemic. But surely some people could have been saved if the government had taken the pandemic seriously from the start.