Discrepancies in Covid death figures under-reported by as much as 2x
Covid deaths are under-reported by as much as 2x — not just in India, but also globally. Most of these deaths are “disguised” under comorbidities.
In light of this practice, now “all deaths with Covid-19 diagnosis, irrespective of comorbidities, will be classified as deaths due to Covid-19.” This came in response to the Supreme Court’s notice on the absence of a uniform policy on death counting and issuing death certificates to the MHA.
Seven states in question
On June 10, Bihar revised its figures to include people who died of the disease at home and in private hospitals. Because of this, the death toll increased to 9429 from 5424, a 72.8% hike.
Last week, between June 11–16, Maharashtra reported 11,052 Covid deaths, but also added 9000 deaths as “old deaths” as the state performed its death reconciliation exercise.
There are close to 4.8 lakhs unexplained excess deaths in just five states — Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Delhi. Revised official death data lead us to believe that the death toll is at least twice the current official figures.
The second wave In India hit its peak in mid-May meaning, most states saw the majority of Covid deaths happen during the past six to seven weeks. Death numbers will eventually be revised in all states and not just these seven states.
The undercount in death numbers is prominent in countries even with robust surveillance systems. According to a WHO report, the global death toll of Covid-19 maybe 2 or 3 times higher than reported. The undercount is likely to be even more significant in India due to technical, cultural and logistical reasons.
Why are these deaths undercounted?
Officials have left out deceased patients with comorbidities. This practice is very widespread. Also, for a death to be declared due to Covid-19, a confirmed test is needed. Places where testing has been low, official numbers will be low.
As the second wave hit, medical facilities were overwhelmed, and many people died without receiving any medical attention at homes, in waiting rooms and even in parking lots outside hospitals.
Rural deaths grossly undercounted
The second wave hit rural India harshly where two-thirds of the Indian population lives and both test facilities and hospitals are far and few.
The country saw crematoriums across the country overburdened, especially in Northern states, making many families place bodies in the Ganga River or buried them in shallow graves at the river’s sand banks. These dead, in all possibility, would not have been registered as the victims of the pandemic.
Are the actual numbers important?
The SC directed the government to bring in uniformity and simplify the process of granting death certificates to the dependents of the people who died of Covid-19, so that the ex-gratia compensation of INR 4 lakh can be provided and families are not deprived.
Low recorded death rates during the first wave led to government narratives of successful handling of the pandemic and thus resulted in complacency which led to the devastating second wave. To fight Covid effectively, we need to know how widespread the disease is.