Opinion

Why are Indian COVID Death Statistics and Crematoriums Telling Different Stories?

The central state of Madhya Pradesh reported 37 Covid deaths on April 12. Yet, in its capital city Bhopal alone, there were 37 funerals at one single crematorium the same day, NDTV reported. On some days, the Covid-19 funerals at a single crematorium exceeded the total death toll of the entire state.

India’s coronavirus second wave is rapidly sliding into a devastating crisis, with hospitals unbearably full, oxygen supplies running low, desperate people dying in line waiting to see doctors — and mounting evidence that the actual death toll is far higher than officially reported. Each day, the government reports more than 300,000 new infections, a world record, and India is now seeing more new infections than any other country by far, almost half of all new cases in a global surge.

But experts say those numbers, however staggering, represent just a fraction of the real reach of the virus’s spread, which has thrown this country into emergency mode. Millions of people refuse to even step outside — their fear of catching the virus is that extreme. Accounts from around the country tell of the sick being left to gasp for air as they wait at chaotic hospitals that are running out of lifesaving oxygen.

The sudden surge in recent weeks, with an insidious newer variant possibly playing a role, is casting increasing doubt on India’s official Covid-19 death toll of nearly 200,000, with more than 2,000 people dying every day. Interviews from cremation grounds across the country, where the fires never stop, portray an extensive pattern of deaths far exceeding the official figures. Nervous politicians and hospital administrators may be undercounting or overlooking large numbers of dead, analysts say. And grieving families may be hiding Covid connections as well, out of shame, adding to the confusion in this enormous nation of 1.4 billion.

According to a New York Times report, “It’s a complete massacre of data,” said Bhramar Mukherjee, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan who has been following India closely. “From all the modeling we’ve done, we believe the true number of deaths is two to five times what is being reported.” At one of the large cremation grounds in Ahmedabad, a city in the western Indian state of Gujarat, bright orange fires light up the night sky, burning 24 hours a day, like an industrial plant that never shuts down. Suresh Bhai, a worker there, said he had never seen such a never-ending assembly line of death. But he has not been writing down the cause of death as Covid-19 on the thin paper slips that he hands over to the mournful families, even though the number of dead is surging along with the virus. Sickness, sickness, sickness,” Mr. Suresh said. “That’s what we write.” When asked why, he said it was what he had been instructed to do by his bosses, who did not respond to requests for comment.

Madhya Pradesh Covid-19 Death Official Statistics

The central state of Madhya Pradesh reported 37 deaths on April 12. Yet, in its capital city Bhopal alone, there were 37 funerals at one single crematorium the same day, NDTV reported. On some days, the Covid-19 funerals at a single crematorium exceeded the total death toll of the entire state. Officials at the crematoriums in Bhopal told NDTV that they haven’t seen such long queues of ambulances waiting their turn for funerals since the 1984 gas tragedy in the city. “I am feeling weak, getting tired… too many dead bodies are coming in and it is crowded here. We can’t even take a break for lunch,” Pradeep Kanojia, a worker at the Bhopal crematorium, told NDTV. The crematorium is now also running short of firewood for the pyres. In Delhi, which has seen its worst-ever surge in Covid-19 cases at 17,282 on April 14, crematorium workers have complained that the local body has not given sufficient protective gear.

Uttar Pradesh Covid Death Statistics

In Uttar Pradesh’s capital Lucknow, there has been a consistent rise in the number of Covid-19 funerals. On April 11, nearly 70 bodies came to one Covid-19 crematorium in the city, leading to a long queue and overworked staff. Yet, the state-wide death figure for one of India’s largest states on the day was 72. “We were handling 7-8 cremations of Covid patients’ bodies on average per day (combined for the two crematoriums). But in the last one week, the number went up to 30 and then 40. Eventually, 69 bodies came for cremation Sunday,” Ajay Dwivedi, Lucknow’s municipal commissioner, told ThePrint. Now, Lucknow is planning to get five electric crematoriums ready, each of which can handle up to 10 funerals a day, according to ThePrint.

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