Under-counting the dead

Reliable statistics a must for future-preparedness

Under-counting the dead

INDIA sees record 3.79 lakh new cases and 3,645 deaths. The total death toll is 2,04,832.’ So reads the official tally (April 29, 8 am) of the coronavirus data that has been updated daily since the outbreak of the pandemic last year. However, India is reeling under a grimmer reality: the load of a much higher figure of Covid deaths. Ground reports of the burning pyres and buried bodies from almost all cremation/burial grounds in almost every town or city across the country and the official figures presented of that place present a yawning gulf. The mismatch, starkly evident in the ongoing ferocious second wave, significantly ranges from three times to scores of times of the score put on the bulletin. Pointing to the inconsistency, a report reveals that while the official tag indicated 42 Covid deaths in Chandigarh and 18 in Panchkula from April 1-22, the crematoriums consigned to the flames 70 and 30 bodies, respectively. Haunting scenes of relatives ferrying corpses in carts or rickshaws (as ambulances are either not available or fleecing the grieving kin) were witnessed in Ludhiana’s grounds.

Devastating scenes of mass cremations amid queues of bodies piling up for their turn to be lit as hearse vans arrive non-stop in places like Delhi/NCR in the past couple of weeks present a denial of dignity in death and last rites. In the hotspots, it is even difficult to keep track or count as crematorium/burial ground staffers are overworked or wary of the virus infecting them too. Chaos prevails even as the authorities suppressing factual accounts to ‘prevent panic’ or showing things as being ‘under control’ fly in the face of the heartbreaking visuals going viral. Contributing to the under-reporting of the Covid tally is the fact that deaths, especially occurring at homes in rural areas, routinely go without the cause being certified.

Data discrepancies are disturbing as underplaying the statistics affects the government’s response to the emerging scenario. Reliable numbers are crucial to gauging the gaps, for example, in hospital beds, oxygen and medicines and planning for future-preparedness. Incidentally, in 2019, the Modi government was rocked by the fudging of the unemployment rate as it tried to under-report the figures.

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