Shashi Tharoor alleges undercounting of COVID-19 cases in India

India officially reported 2,71,71,433 confirmed cases of COVID-19, out of which 25,02,028 are still active, while 2,43,47,122 have recovered

Even getting a clear picture of the total number of infections in India is hard because of poor record-keeping and a lack of widespread testing. Estimating the true number of deaths requires a second layer of extrapolation, depending on the share of those infected who end up dying. Last week, India recorded the largest daily death toll for any country during the pandemic — a figure that is most likely still an undercount.

The Times’ analysis, performed in consultation with more than a dozen experts, offers several possible estimates for the true scale of devastation in the country.

Why official data underrepresents India’s pandemic

India’s official COVID statistics report 26,948,800 cases and 307,231 deaths as of Tuesday morning.

Even in countries with robust surveillance during this pandemic, the number of infections is probably much higher than the number of confirmed cases because many people have contracted the virus but have not been tested for it. On Friday, a report by the World Health Organization estimated that the global death toll of COVID-19 maybe two or three times higher than reported.

The undercount of cases and deaths in India is most likely even more pronounced, for technical, cultural and logistical reasons. Because hospitals are overwhelmed, many COVID-19 deaths occur at home, especially in rural areas, and are omitted from the official count, said Kayoko Shioda, an epidemiologist at Emory University. Laboratories that could confirm the cause of death are equally swamped, she said.

Additionally, other researchers have found, there are few COVID-19 tests available; often families are unwilling to say that their loved ones have died of COVID, and the system for keeping vital records in India is shaky at best. Even before COVID-19, about four out of five deaths in India were not medically investigated.

In a paper examining infection rates using serosurvey data from three locations in India, Dr Paul Novosad, an associate professor of economics at Dartmouth College, found huge variability depending on the population being sampled. “We found that age-specific IFR among returning lockdown migrants was much higher than in richer countries,” he said. “In contrast, we found a much lower first-wave IFR than richer countries in the Southern states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.”

In a country as large as India, even a small fluctuation in infection fatality rates could mean a difference of hundreds of thousands of deaths.

While estimates can vary over time and from region to region, one thing is clear beyond all doubt: The pandemic in India is much larger than the official figures suggest.

Launching another veiled attack on the government’s inefficiency or a calculated bid to hide the reality of COVID in India, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor tweeted:

He alleged that while it’s a reality that every nation in the world has gaps in numbers reported and the actual numbers on ground, the numbers in India fall drastically short of painting the real picture.

As of 26th of May 2021, India officially reported 2,71,71,433 confirmed cases of COVID-19, out of which 25,02,028 are still active, while 2,43,47,122 have recovered, and 3,11,497 have reportedly lost the battle against this deadly virus.

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