Need To Know the Scale of the Tragedy: Ex-Chief Economic Adviser on COVID Deaths

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A report published by India’s former Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian and two other researchers last week, puts India’s pandemic toll in the range of 34 lakh to 47 lakh.

Speaking on the estimated numbers, Subramanian on Friday, 23 July, said, “We all need to know the scale of the catastrophe, the human tragedy.”

In an interview to NDTV, Subramanian explained that the question on the pandemic death toll is not if the deaths were underreported, but the question is by how much.

The estimated count is much higher than India’s official death toll of 4.20 lakh people.

  • The report estimates that between April 2020 and March 2021, there were 15 lakh to 34 lakh excess deaths in India.

  • Meanwhile, the excess death toll during the second wave (April-June) has been pegged at 14 lakh-24 lakh.

Also Read: RIP Truth: Govt's Denial of Deaths Due to Oxygen Crisis is Kaafi Real

What Are All-Cause Excess Deaths?

Excess deaths are calculated by the difference between all-cause deaths reported this year and in pre-pandemic years. Subramaniam adds that while all excess deaths are not likely to be due to COVID-19, it can be expected that a majority of them are linked to the COVID pandemic.

A recent countrywide sero survey report had pointed out that 67.6 percent, which is more than two-thirds of India’s population, has been exposed to the virus till now.

Referring to the report, Subramaniam said, “With such high sero prevalence...such a high population, this is what you will expect to find,” NDTV reported.

Government’s Comment 'Defies Any Sense of What Happened'

Dismissing the Centre’s claim that no COVID-19 deaths were reported in the country due to lack of oxygen supply, Subramaniam said, “To say that there were no oxygen-related deaths defies any sense of what happened.”

The Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Bharati Pravin Pawar had told the Parliament that states did not specifically report any deaths due to oxygen shortages.

Subramanian pointed out, for example, that the death toll in Uttar Pradesh was recorded more accurately in the first wave as compared to the second one.

Referring to a report which showed that 24 districts in UP recorded 1.97 lakh more deaths between July 2020 and March 2021, as compared to the same period the previous year, the economist said, “The second wave numbers in UP seem extremely low”, Scroll reported. Which makes the mortality rate a 110 percent higher than the same period the previous year.

Also Read: Bodies in Ganga to 'Real' Death Toll: How Dainik Bhaskar Led COVID Coverage

Underreporting of COVID-19 Deaths in India

On being asked if the report showed that the government was hiding data, Subramanian said, “Nowhere in this study we said that the government is fudging data. We have traditional weakness in our capacity to do this. It is just that our systems are not as good as they should be”, NDTV reported.

He added, “We all need to know the full scale of the catastrophe, the human tragedy, to learn a lesson and be prepared for future.”

The researchers have used data from the Civil Registration System to measure the difference between deaths registered during the pandemic years, 2020 and 2021, and other years.

The nationwide system of recording all births and deaths, led by the Office of the Registrar General of India is called the Civil Registration System.

It is also implemented at the state-level. Whether they were medically certified or not, the system is meant to record deaths from all causes and every location.

The Civil Registration System’s data from seven states was also taken into account in the study done by Subramanian and his colleagues.

Further, it also considered blood tests showing the prevalence of the virus in India alongside global COVID-19 fatality rates and the country’s economic survey, which covers nine lakh people and is conducted three times a year, news agency AP reported.

In the past couple of months, similar data on excess deaths has emerged for states such as Haryana,Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh.

Also Read: Mission Impossible: Can India Vaccinate All Adults By Year End?

(With inputs from NDTV, Scroll and AP)

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