New study reveals India was ‘severely’ under-reporting its COVID cases


While the COVID pandemic was at its peak in India during the second wave, many claims of the Indian government downplaying the actual numbers were silenced, condemned, and even threatened.

However, now a popular medical journal Lancet has released a new paper in which it shows that the government had severely under-reported that actual numbers.

The report shows that up to the end of 2021 India had the highest number of cumulative excess deaths in the world at 4.07 million deaths.

The first peer-reviewed global estimates of excess deaths indicate that 18.2 million people may have died globally because of Covid by December 31, 2021 — three times higher than the official record of 5.9 million worldwide.

The paper, published Friday, March 11 and part-funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, states: “Although reported Covid-19 deaths between January 1, 2020, and December 31, 2021, totaled 5·9 million worldwide, we estimate that 18·2 million people died worldwide because of the pandemic.

At the country-level, the highest numbers of cumulative excess deaths due to Covid were estimated in India (4.07 million), the US (1.13 million), and Russia (1.07 million).”

The study, led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, also looked at the excess mortality figures of 12 Indian states. Among these, the ratio between excess and reported Covid-19 deaths was the highest in Bihar at 26.68 and the lowest in Goa at 0.96.

“Based largely on empirical excess mortality observed in 12 Indian states, including during the surge in Covid-19 cases between April and July, 2021, we found that at the national level, India had an estimated 152.5 excess deaths (95 percent UI 138.6–163.3) per 1,00,000 of the population over the study period,” the study noted.

This, it added, was much higher than the reported COVID-19 mortality rate of 18.3 per 1,00,000 in the same period.

The official reported Covid deaths in India over the study period are 4,89,000 and India’s reported Covid mortality rate is 18.3 deaths per 1,00,000, whereas the study estimates the true excess deaths figure was eight times higher at 4.07 million and that the country had an estimated 152.5 excess deaths per 1,00,000 of the population during the study period. India has ac- counted for 22·3% of global excess Covid deaths as of December 31, 2021.

The Lancet study is not the first time that there have been claims about excess mortality in India. Many other studies have also arrived at their own estimates. The Government of India, however, has denied all such claims.

In the latest denial, dated 17 February 2022, the Press Information Bureau said that India had a “robust system” of reporting deaths, including those due to Covid-19. Deaths in India, the release claimed, were compiled regularly “at different levels of governance”, from the village- to district- to state-level, and were then reported in a “transparent manner”.

The press release listed out various measures that the Government of India has undertaken to record a “correct picture” of pandemic-related deaths across the states and said that “to project that Covid deaths have been under-reported is without basis and devoid of justification”.