Covid deaths: What’s the actual picture in India

Chennai: There have been some media reports alleging a ‘significant undercount’ of the actual number of people who have died in India due to Covid-19 in the first two waves, claiming that the final toll may be ‘substantially greater’ crossing the figures of about three million.

The Union government has said said ‘such media reports are fallacious and ill-informed. They are not based on facts and are mischievous in nature.’

In a statement, the Centre said India has a very robust system of birth and death reporting which is based on a Statute and is carried out regularly from the Gram Panchayat level to the District-level and State level.

‘The whole exercise is carried out under the overall oversight of the Registrar General of India (RGI). Moreover, Government of India has a very comprehensive definition to classify Covid deaths, based on globally acceptable categorisation. All deaths are being independently reported by States, and are being compiled centrally. The backlog in Covid-19 mortality data being submitted by the States at different times are being reconciled in the data of Government of India on a regular basis.’

It added that a large number of States have regularly reconciled their death numbers and have reported arrear deaths in a broadly transparent manner. Therefore, to project that deaths have been under-reported is without basis and without justification.

‘It is clarified that there is an extreme difference in Covid case load and linked mortality between Indian States. Any assumptions putting all States in one envelope would mean mapping skewed data of outliers together with States reporting lowest mortality which is bound to stretch the median towards higher and wrong results.’

Furthermore, there is an incentive in India to report Covid deaths as they are entitled to monetary compensation. Hence, the likelihood of underreporting is less, the statement said and added: During a disruptive situation like the pandemic, the actual mortality could be more than the reported deaths due to many factors, even in the most robust health systems. However, any analysis with the view to deduce information collected from extremely varied caseload and outcome situations among Indian states is bound to be incomplete and incorrect.

‘These current media reports on ‘significant undercount’ of the actual number of people who have died in India are based on a study which seems biased in nature as only adults with Covid-19 symptoms were captured and cannot be thus representative of the general population. There also appears to be selection bias as the survey is restricted to phone owning people who can also take out time to answer questions comprehensively. The sample could be skewed towards urban areas in that sense, where more cases were reported, and thus, have a higher reporting.’


NT Bureau