India’s excess deaths during the pandemic could be 10 times the official Covid-19 toll, likely making it modern India’s worst human tragedy, according to the most comprehensive research yet.
ost experts believe India’s official toll of more than 414,000 dead is a vast undercount, but the government has dismissed those concerns as exaggerated and misleading.
The report released yesterday estimated excess deaths – the gap between those recorded and those that would have been expected – to be 3 million to 4.7 million between January 2020 and June 2021.
It said an accurate figure may “prove elusive” but the true death toll “is likely to be an order of magnitude greater than the official count”.
The report was published by Arvind Subramanian, the Indian government’s former chief economic adviser, and two other researchers at the Center for Global Development – a nonprofit think tank based in Washington, and Harvard University.
It said the count could have missed deaths that occurred in overwhelmed hospitals or while health care was disrupted, particularly during the devastating virus surge earlier this year.
“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 report said.
The partition of the British-ruled Indian subcontinent into independent India and Pakistan in 1947 led to the killing of up to 1 million people as gangs of Hindus and Muslims slaughtered each other.
The report estimated nearly 2 million Indians died during the first surge in infections last year and said not “grasping the scale of the tragedy in real time” may have “bred collective complacency that led to the horrors” of the surge earlier this year.