Coronavirus: Study finds India's Covid deaths 10 times higher than reported

  • The estimates from the Centre for Global Development make it India’s worst humanitarian disaster since the 1947 partition
  • Between 3.4 million and 4.7 million people may have died from the virus in the South Asian country, researchers say
Agence France-Presse |

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A new study finds India’s actual Covid-19 death toll may be 10 times higher than what has been previously reported by authorities. Photo: EPA

A US research group reported on Tuesday that India’s Covid death toll is up to 10 times higher than the nearly 415,000 fatalities reported by authorities, likely making it the country’s worst humanitarian disaster since independence.

The estimate from the Centre for Global Development is the highest yet in the South Asian nation of 1.3 billion people, which is emerging from a devastating second wave partly fuelled by the Delta variant in April and May.

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The study - which analysed data from the start of the pandemic to June this year - suggested that between 3.4 million and 4.7 million people had died from the virus.

“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 researchers said.

After the sub-continent’s partition in 1947 into mainly Hindu India and Muslim-majority Pakistan, religious violence killed hundreds of thousands of people. Some estimates say up to two million died.

Health workers wearing personal protective equipment attend to Covid-19 patients inside a banquet hall temporarily converted into a care centre in New Delhi, India, in April 2021. Photo: AFP via Getty Images/TNS

India’s official death toll of just over 414,000 is the world’s third-highest, after the United States’ 609,000 fatalities and Brazil’s 542,000.

Experts have been casting doubt on India’s toll for months, blaming the already overstretched health service.

Several Indian states have revised their virus tolls in recent weeks, adding thousands of “backlog” deaths.

The Centre for Global Development report was based on estimating “excess mortality”, the number of extra people who died compared with pre-crisis figures.

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Christophe Guilmoto, a specialist in Indian demography at France’s Research Institute for Development, estimated this month that the death toll was nearer 2.2 million by late May.

India’s death rate per million was nearly half the world average and Guilmoto said “such a low figure contradicts the apparent severity of a crisis that has struck most Indian families across the country”.

Guilmoto’s team concluded that only one coronavirus death in seven was recorded.

A model by the US-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimated the Covid toll could be more than 1.25 million.

India’s health ministry slammed The Economist magazine last month for publishing a story that said excess deaths were between five and seven times higher than the official toll, calling it “speculative” and “misinformed”.

In May, a World Health Organisation report said that up to three times more people had died around the globe during the pandemic - from coronavirus or other causes - than indicated by official statistics.

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