India records highest daily death toll since pandemic began after state revises its figures

·3 min read
A family member of a person who died of Covid-19 lights the funeral pyre at a crematorium in Jammu (AP)
A family member of a person who died of Covid-19 lights the funeral pyre at a crematorium in Jammu (AP)

India has reported 6,148 deaths from Covid-19 in 24 hours, the highest single-day spike since the start of the pandemic, after a state revised its data to include deaths that had previously not been accounted for.

The country’s total fatalities now stand at 359,676, according to health ministry data.

The eastern Indian state of Bihar updated its official figures on Wednesday, raising the number of Covid deaths there by 3,951 or 72 per cent. The state health department data showed that the total number of fatalities was 9,429, a significant rise from the approximately 5,500 previously counted.

It’s not yet clear when all of these deaths happened, but it is believed that most of the 3,951 deaths occurred during the second wave of the pandemic, according to The Times of India.

The latest data show that state capital Patna had the most deaths, accounting for 2,303 of Bihar’s total.

The official number was revised after authorities undertook an audit of casualties following a court hearing. In May, the Bihar government was criticised by a court after inconsistencies were flagged in the death toll of one of the state’s districts.

State health minister Mangal Pandey told news agency ANI that the government had heard from various sources that the actual number of deaths could be higher, and had directed district magistrates to prepare a report.

He said it took 15 to 20 days for the district magistrates to prepare the report of the cumulative toll, and that his government’s aim is now to reach out to the families of those whose deaths have been reclassified as Covid deaths and to offer them financial help.

The revision has again raised fears that coronavirus infections and deaths across India are being significantly undercounted. Health experts have repeatedly flagged concerns, including those around the low rates of testing in rural areas, where both cases and deaths go unregistered.

Dr Prabhat Jha of the University of Toronto earlier said that people often die at home without medical attention in rural areas, and these deaths are vastly underreported.

And public health researcher Oommen John told The Independent last month that one of the reasons for the discrepancy in numbers is that in some cases, family members might hide the information that a person tested positive for Covid-19 or had symptoms suggestive of the virus, because the protocol for getting a certificate for a Covid-related death is very complex.

India’s coronavirus cases have dipped in recent days, with the country reporting 94,052 new infections in the 24 hours up to Thursday morning, down from a peak of daily new cases well above 400,000. The country’s overall caseload now stands at 29.2 million.

Experts speaking to The New York Times last month estimated that in a conservative scenario, the true number of Covid deaths in India could be around 600,000 and the true count of infections about 15 times higher than the official number.

The Indian government rejected the NYT report, calling it “baseless and outrageous”.

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