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India’s Covid toll may hit 5 million, worst human tragedy since 1947: US study

India’s additional deaths during the COVID pandemic could be between 3.4 and 4.9 million, according to a new report, which suggests that the SARS-CoV-2 virus may have killed millions more than the official count.

The report, which was released on Tuesday, is co-authored by former India Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramaniam, Justin Sandefur of the US-based think-tank Center for Global Development and Abhishek Anand of 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 higher than the official count of 400,000, the authors said.

The authors add in their report that the true deaths are likely to be in the hundreds if not millions, making it arguably the worst human tragedy since India’s partition and independence.

They estimate that more deaths are between 3.4 million and 4.9 million between January 2020 and June 2021.

There are additional deaths recorded during a pandemic compared to the same period in pre-pandemic years, and could be a possible indicator of undercounting in India’s COVID toll.

India’s official COVID-19 tally on Wednesday stood at 4,18,480 (4.18 lakh), the third highest in the world after the US and Brazil.

Noting that there is no official estimate of the death toll from COVID in India, the researchers estimated higher death rates from June this year on three different data sources from the start of the pandemic.

First, the extrapolation of state-level citizen registration of deaths from seven states. This suggests 3.4 million additional deaths.

Second, the researchers applied international estimates of age-specific infection mortality (IFR) to Indian seroprevalence data. That means a high toll of about 4 million.

The IFR measures the proportion of deaths among the identified confirmed cases and allows more deaths to be estimated.

Third, the researchers analyzed data from the Consumer Pyramid Household Survey (CPHS), a survey of more than 800,000 individuals across all states. This is estimated to lead to an additional 4.9 million deaths.

The researchers said they are not in favor of any one estimate as each has its merits and drawbacks.

India is still emerging from a disastrous second wave that began in March and is believed to be driven by a more permeable delta variant.

The analysis also shows that the first wave was more lethal than believed. By the end of March this year, when the second wave began, the official death toll in India was over 1,50,000 (1.5 lakh).

Many experts have cast doubt on India’s official toll, the way in which deaths are counted in the country, rather than deliberate misinformation.

Since official figures do not represent reality, there is a need to use indirect methods such as estimating excess deaths from all causes in the pandemic period, said Gautam Menon, Professor, Department of Physics and Biology, Ashoka University, Haryana. .

Analysis leads to a wide range of possible values, from a factor of 3 on the lower end to an undercounting by a factor of 10 at the upper end. All evidence suggests that the actual value is within this range, Menon, who has been a part of several COVID-19 modeling studies, told PTI.

He said the relatively low official numbers for the COVID-19 death toll at the end of the first wave were probably attributable to a sense of Indian exceptionalism and consequent lack of necessary vigilance, leading to a disastrous second wave.

Their results point to the importance of accurate and timely mortality estimates and the need to redefine and reorganize our approach to how such data are collected.

At some points, the uncertainty in the data overwhelms the calculations.

For example, Menon explained, in estimating the effect of first versus second wave mortality, different methods give different results, not just quantitatively. For this reason, he said he would lean toward the more conservative end of the estimate in the US report.

Murad Banji, senior lecturer in mathematics at the UK’s Middlesex University, agreed.

We cannot be certain that the total more deaths are 10 times more than the recorded COVID-19 deaths. But even the most conservative estimates give about 2.5 million additional deaths so far, almost six times the official COVID-19 death count, Banaji told PTI in response to the findings.

Banji, who is looking at India’s COVID-19 mortality data, said reports suggest that during the pandemic, India has seen an increase in deaths several times higher than the official COVID-19 death-count.

Noting that there is no easy way to determine how many more deaths have been caused by COVID-19, he said epidemiological and international data shows that a large proportion of excess mortality is from the disease. likely to happen.

We can say with confidence that India has counted only a tiny fraction of its COVID-19 deaths. In fact, it is very likely that India has recorded less than one in five of its COVID-19 deaths so far.

According to Banaji, the main conclusion from the report is that the mortality rate has been high, but disease surveillance and transparency have been very poor.

Weak death recordings, and dishonest and misleading narratives about mortality rates have hindered efforts to understand and predict the course of COVID-19 in India. He contributed to complacency and mismanagement of the second wave of the pandemic in the country.

WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan said on Tuesday that it is important for every country to capture excess mortality.

The only way to prepare the health system for future shocks and prevent further deaths. This is why we need to invest in strong citizen registration and vital statistics, so that policies can be adjusted based on real data, she said in a Twitter post.

On Wednesday, India recorded a one-day increase of 3,998 coronavirus fatalities and 42,015 new cases, as Maharashtra reported a one-day increase. Data reconciliation exercise as per Union Health Ministry. While the death toll rose to 4,18,480, the case tally now stands at 3,12,16,337 (3.12 crore/31.2 million) with a daily positivity rate of 2.27 per cent – it has been less than three per cent for 30 consecutive days.


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