India tries to brush aside reports of estimated excess 4.9 million deaths due to Covid19

The Indian government’s consistent efforts to cover up its inadequacies in addressing the Covid19 pandemic have failed to answer the US research group’s report estimating up to 4.9 million excess deaths.

The Indian government rejected the report claiming it has a “robust system of reporting” however its efforts to hide the reality continue to get exposed.

The latest efforts to draw a veil over the facts fell flat as its claim of deaths due to shortage of oxygen supply drew a strong reaction by people who lost their loved ones due to the deadly Indian variant of Coronavirus – Delta.

A report by the Washington-based Center for Global Development on Tuesday exposed the efforts by Indian authorities in hiding the figures and said India’s excess deaths could be as high as 4.9 million, a fact that has been reported earlier by health experts and international media, but dismissed by the Narendra Modi government.

Photo ©AP – FILE – In this April 24, 2021, file photo, multiple funeral pyres of those who died of COVID-19 burn at a ground that has been converted into a crematorium for the mass cremation of coronavirus victims, in New Delhi, India. India’s excess deaths during the pandemic could be a staggering 10 times the official COVID-19 toll, likely making it modern India’s worst human tragedy, according to the most comprehensive research yet on the ravages of the virus in the south Asian country. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri, File)

New York Times and CNN both in their reports in April spoke of the gross underreporting of the Covid19 death toll by Indian authorities. The tragedy came to the fore when hundreds of dead bodies were found floating in the Ganges as the relatives dumped their dead loved ones in the river as they could not be cremated.

The report by the Research group said India’s coronavirus death toll was up to 10 times higher than the around 418,000 fatalities reported by the authorities, making it the worst humanitarian disaster the country witnessed since independence.

The report co-authored by India’s former chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian includes deaths from all causes since the start of the pandemic through June this year and was based on estimating “excess mortality”, the number of extra people who died compared with pre-crisis figures.

“What is tragically clear is that too many people, in the millions rather than hundreds of thousands, may have died,” the report said and pointed that an estimated 3.4 million to 4.9 million excess deaths occurred during the pandemic.

It took India 48 hours to respond through a statement by its Ministry of Health which dismissed the findings and claimed that it has a “robust system of reporting” and missing on deaths was unlikely.

“The reports assume that all the excess mortality figures are COVID deaths, which is not based on facts and totally fallacious,” the statement said pointing that “excess mortality was a term used to describe an all-cause mortality figure and attributing these deaths to COVID-19 was completely misleading.

However, Rana Ayyub, Global Opinions Writer for the Washington Post in an interview with the BBC said she had earlier reported that India was undercounting its death by 10 times. She was labelled by the Indian government as “an alarmist trying to malign the image of India globally.”

Referring to the number of deaths that could be 4.7 million, she said “I do not think it’s an
exaggeration … I am not the least bit surprised.”

“Most of us have been warning the Indian government with our reports and the regional newspapers in India have been reporting about bodies floating in the Ganges and that’s an image that the world saw but despite evidence in its face if the government of India brazenly says there were no deaths … I think the government is trying to hide.”

Indian efforts to deny the facts are not new. Earlier India’s health ministry also rejected as “speculative” and “misinformed”, a report by the Economist magazine, last month, which pointed between five and seven times higher excess deaths than the official toll.

A World Health Organization report in May said up to three times more people had died around the globe during the pandemic — from coronavirus or other causes — than indicated by official figures.

Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi in a tweet said the wrong decisions by the government of India during the second wave of Covid19 “killed 50 lakh of our sisters, brothers, mothers and fathers.”

The latest outrage against the failure of the Modi government in addressing the pandemic came on denial of lack of oxygen shortages. Hospitals in India ran out of oxygen in April and May during the deadly second wave.

India Today reported that a day after the central government told Parliament, several people said the crisis led to the death of their family members.

The Indian Health Ministry in a written response in the Rajya Sabha has said no state reported even a single death due to lack of oxygen during the second wave of Covid-19 infections, a statement strongly rejected by the people who saw dead bodies lying on the roads.

An angry twitter user retorted “People died on roads gasping for Oxygen due to this govt’s inaction … is there NO limit to their lies?”

According to the Reuters news agency, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has also been criticised for its “messy vaccination campaign” that many say helped worsen the second wave of infections.

Just over 8% of eligible adult Indians have received both vaccine doses. In July, the government administered fewer than 4 million daily doses on average, down from a record 9.2 million on June 21, when Modi flagged off a free campaign to inoculate all 950 million adults.

Report compilation by Shafek Koreshe