Second COVID-19 wave was India's worst tragedy since Partition: Report
Photo: BL Soni

A report prepared by the Centre for Global Development citing that India's official Covid-19 death count by the end of June 2021 was 4,00,000 says "The reality is, of course, catastrophically worse." In its report titled, 'Three new estimates of India's all-cause excess mortality during the Covid-19 pandemic', it said the second wave of Covid-19 in India was the "worst tragedy since the Partition (in 1947)".

Prepared by the Washington-based think tank Center for Global Development the report has been co-authored by India's former Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian. Abhishek Anand, from the Harvard University and Justin Sandefur, from the Center for Global Development have put together the report.

The report is based on serosurveys, household data and official data. It points towards a significant underreporting of deaths in the country. The report also acknowledges that there is considerable uncertainty within and across estimates. They range from about 1 million to 6 million deaths overall, with central estimates varying between 3.4 to 4.9 million deaths.

The most important finding of this report is that regardless of the source and estimates, actual number of deaths during the Covid-19 pandemic are likely to have been much greater than the official count. In the report, the authors said, "Estimating Covid-deaths with statistical confidence may prove elusive. But all estimates suggest that the death toll from the pandemic is likely to be an order of magnitude greater than the official count of 400,000."

While the second wave is believed to be more fatal and terrible, this report instead states that the first wave of Covid-19 in India was spread out in time and space, unlike the sudden and concentrated surge of cases in the second wave. The report says the failure to grasp the scale of the tragedy in real-time during the first Covid-19 wave "may have bred the collective complacency that led to the horrors of the second wave".

It adds that mortality in the first wave appeared moderate. But even the Civil Registration System (CRS) data suggest that up to 2 million people might have died in that period.

Responding to the report, chief scientist of the World Health Organisation, Dr Soumya Swaminathan said, "For every country, it's important to capture excess mortality. It's the only way to prepare the health system for future shocks and to prevent further deaths. This is also a reason why we need to invest in strong civil registration and vital statistics, so that policies can be adjusted based on real data."

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