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Even a record death toll may hide the scope of the Covid crisis in India | India News


The bodies piling up in crematoria and cemeteries across India are raising concerns that the death toll from a fierce new wave of Covid-19 may be much higher than official records, downplaying the scale of a resurgence that is overwhelming the country’s medical system.
Several cities in the South Asian nation have reported shocking details of bodies, wrapped in protective gear and identified by hospitals as virus-related deaths, lined up outside crematoria for hours. Accounts compiled by Bloomberg of relatives of the dead and workers and eyewitnesses at crematoria in at least five cities indicate that the actual number of Covid deaths could be significantly higher than the deaths reported by local government health departments.
Family members pray during the funeral of a Covid-19 victim in a cremation room at the Nigambodh Ghat crematorium in New Delhi on April 19.
On Thursday, India broke the world record for new daily infections with 314,835 new cases. With almost 16 million cases in total, it is the second most affected country in the world, behind only the United States.
But while the number of cases in the United States is double, its death toll is three times higher than what India has reported. The sudden rise of Asia’s third-largest economy puts at risk not only its fragile economic recovery, but also the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Deaths in India have always been undercounted, even before the pandemic struck. The vast majority of deaths, especially in rural villages, occur at home and are not routinely recorded. For others, the listed cause of death is often nondescript (old age or heart attack), leading experts to estimate that only 20% to 30% of all deaths in India are properly medically certified.
News reports from across India suggest that a combination of poor testing and a healthcare system awash in crushing those sick from the virus has meant that accurately counting Covid deaths remains a struggle even a year after the death. health crisis.
Failure to capture death data accurately “creates the misconception that the media is showing anecdotal cases and the overall situation is under control,” said Himanshu Sikka, director of health strategy at IPE Global, a development consulting firm. “This damages future preparations and the necessary measures for a possible third wave.”
Data vs cremations
In Lucknow, the capital of India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, the official death toll from Covid between April 11 and April 16 was 145.
However, only two of the city’s main crematories reported more than 430 or three times as many cremations under the Covid-19 protocol in that period, according to eyewitnesses and workers, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak to the journalists. . This does not take into account burials or funerals at other smaller cremation sites in the city.
When a Lucknow resident, who asked not to be identified, arrived at one of the main crematories with the body of a family friend on Monday morning, he was told that they could install the funeral pyre anywhere they could find space. Even so, it took more than three hours to find a place that was far enough away to tolerate the heat emanating from the other burning bodies.
He was not allowed to use the electric oven reserved for virus deaths because the dead man did not have a report showing that he had tested positive for the virus even though he had a prescription for Covid-19 treatment. No family member was able to attend the funeral as all had tested positive and were in home isolation.
After the patient died in a city hospital, staff wrapped the body in protective kits used for Covid-19 deaths. Most of the nearly 50 bodies the Lucknow citizen saw arrive in the four hours he spent at the crematorium were wrapped in the same way, but were not cremated in the virus-only electric furnace, he said. That likely meant their deaths were not attributed to Covid.
In the industrial city of Surat, located in the home state of Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the head of a trust that runs crematoria said that at least 100 bodies have been brought in every day for the past 10 days, wrapped in protection ordered by Covid. cover. The Surat municipal body reported only 28 deaths from the virus on April 19.
“The structures inside the furnace, like the metal frames and the chimney, are melting and falling apart,” said Kamlesh Sailor. “Repairing it and keeping it running is a challenge, but we have no other way, the bodies will have to be disposed of as quickly as possible.”
“The death toll is dynamic, difficult to reconcile from a simple reading,” said Navneet Sehgal, additional chief secretary of the Uttar Pradesh government. “No one is trying to hide the Covid-19 deaths. Some of the deaths in Lucknow that are listed as deaths due to Covid-19 are actually normal deaths that would have been incorrectly counted. ”
There was no immediate comment from the Gujarat government spokesman.
Sanjeev Gupta, a freelance photojournalist in the central city of Bhopal, said that he has consistently witnessed the cremation of 80-120 bodies each day in the past week at just one of the city’s three cremation centers reserved for Covid cases. Official virus death figures for the district were below 10 each day. According to news reports, the state government said the deaths were “suspicious of Covid” but could not be confirmed due to a shortage of test equipment and laboratory facilities.
Counting fights
The speed with which the pandemic spread around the world meant that even in countries with sophisticated health systems, mortality was difficult to assess accurately, especially in the early days. Patients with heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other chronic conditions are at increased risk of dying from Covid-19. Some governments, including Russia, had last year attributed the cause of deaths in some of these patients to the pre-existing condition, raising questions about the veracity of official mortality data.
Tens of thousands of probable Covid-19 deaths in the US were not captured by official statistics between March and May 2020, according to a July study.
A board indicates ‘no’ available beds in a New Delhi hospital on April 21.
The Union Ministry of Health of India did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Even without precise figures, the deadly impact of India’s second wave is hard to miss.
Four pages of the local language newspaper Sandesh in Rajkot, another Gujarat city, were covered with obituaries on Wednesday. A month ago, they took up only a quarter of a page.

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