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2nd Covid wave was India's worst tragedy since Partition, saw up to 49 lakh excess deaths: Report

India Today logo India Today 21-07-2021 Sneha Mordani

India's official Covid-19 death count by the end of June 2021 was 4,00,000. "The reality is, of course, catastrophically worse," says a report prepared by the Centre for Global Development. The report titled 'Three new estimates of India's all-cause excess mortality during the Covid-19 pandemic', says the second wave of Covid-19 in India was the "worst tragedy since the Partition (in 1947)".

NEW DELHI, INDIA  JULY 21: COVID-19 Rapid Antigen detection testing at Lok Nayak Jai Prakash (LNJP) hospital, in New Delhi. (Photo by Pankaj Nangia/India Today Group/Getty Images) © Getty NEW DELHI, INDIA JULY 21: COVID-19 Rapid Antigen detection testing at Lok Nayak Jai Prakash (LNJP) hospital, in New Delhi. (Photo by Pankaj Nangia/India Today Group/Getty Images)

The report has been prepared by the Washington-based think tank Center for Global Development and is co-authored by India's former Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian. Abhishek Anand, from the Harvard University and Justin Sandefur, from the Center for Global Development have put together the report.

It is based on sero surveys, household data and official data. It points towards a significant underreporting of deaths in the country. It acknowledges that there is considerable uncertainty within and across estimates. They range from about 1 million to 6 million deaths overall, with central estimates varying between 3.4 to 4.9 million deaths.

FULL COVERAGE: Coronavirus crisis in India

ACTUAL DEATHS GREATER THAN OFFICIAL COUNT

The most critical finding of this report is that regardless of the source and estimates, actual number of deaths during the Covid-19 pandemic are likely to have been much greater than the official count.

"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 says.

"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 greater than the official count of 400,000," the authors said.

Excess deaths are additional deaths recorded during a pandemic, as compared to a corresponding period in pre-pandemic years, and could be a potential indicator of undercounting in India's Covid toll.

1st WAVE MORE LETHAL THAN WHAT IS POPULARLY BELIEVED

The report states that the first wave of Covid-19 in India was spread out in time and space, unlike the sudden and concentrated surge of cases in the second wave.

It adds that mortality in the first wave appeared moderate. But even the Civil Registration System (CRS) data suggest that up to 2 million people might have died in that period.

The report says the failure to grasp the scale of the tragedy in real-time during the first Covid-19 wave "may have bred the collective complacency that led to the horrors of the second wave".

THE THREE ESTIMATES

1) BASED ON HOUSEHOLD SURVEY DATA

The analysis of the Consumer Pyramid Household Survey (CPHS)--which covers over 8,00,000 individuals across states--shows an estimate of 49 lakh excess deaths.

CPHS was conducted by the private firm Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). It constitutes a longitudinal panel of individuals, with information spanning roughly 8,68,000 people across roughly 1,77,000 households interviewed once every four months. About one-fourth of the people were interviewed every month.

2) CIVIL REGISTRATION OF DEATHS

The CRS deaths data reflects excess mortality of over 34 lakh. But this estimation covers only seven states.

3) ESTIMATES BASED ON SERO-PREVALENCE SURVEY

The report says, "Combining the Indian sero-prevalence data and applying the best estimate of international age-specific IFRs to Indian demography and sero-prevalence patterns, yields excess deaths of 1.5 million and 2.4 million in the two waves, respectively. Together, the toll of Covid-19 until June 2021 is estimated to be 4 million."

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STUDY REFLECTS IMPORTANCE OF REAL-TIME DATA: WHO

Responding to the report, chief scientist of the World Health Organisation, Dr Soumya Swaminathan said, "For every country, it's important to capture excess mortality. It's the only way to prepare the health system for future shocks and to prevent further deaths. This is also a reason why we need to invest in strong civil registration and vital statistics, so that policies can be adjusted based on real data."

Professor Ashish Jha, Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health said India has officially recorded 400,000 deaths (by June end). "New analysis by a superb group suggest that the true number is between 3.5 million and 5 million deaths. We have vastly underestimated the suffering caused by this disease."

Follow the government's latest travel advice if you are planning a trip outside India or travelling back to India from affected areas. You can also read World Health Organization's advice on basic protective measures against the virus. WHO has also busted some myths surrounding coronavirus. The Ministry of Health's special helpline is available at +91-11-23978046 and ncov2019@gmail.com.

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