COVID Wave 2: How many died?

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COVID Wave 2: How many died?

Devangshu Datta

Only the government has the capacity to collect all death data from all facilities and to count corpses dumped in rivers.
And the government is clearly not interested in finding out, observes Devangshu Datta.

A few weeks ago, experts from Meerut went on strike.

They wanted danger money – additional payment – for the last rites of COVID-19 victims.

Negotiations failed over the classification of the corpses.

The priests said, as far as they were concerned, that all corpses that were not clearly unnatural deaths should be classified as Covid.

The official UP government tally showed very few cases of Covid.

The rest had officially died of natural causes or some mysterious illness.

In April 2020, I reported gaps in mortality data that made it impossible to accurately classify deaths into underlying causes.

Vital statistics data indicate that 80% of estimated deaths – around 6.4 million – were officially registered in 2016-17, the latest year for which data is available.

It is estimated that about 8.2 million Indians died in 2016-2017, or about 22,500 deaths per day.

Extrapolating from there, the UN estimated that the death rate in India was 7.265 deaths per 1,000 people in 2019 before COVID-19.

This represents approximately 26,350 deaths per day. Of these, around 550 deaths were due to accidents or violence, adding up to 2 lakh of unnatural deaths each year.

In 2017, medical certificates were issued for only 22% of registered deaths.

In many cases, the cause was simply uninformative “heart failure”.

About 80 percent of Indians die without a medical certificate and where medical certificates exist, it is difficult to know the underlying causes.

You do not need a medical certificate to dispose of the body of a deceased person at home.

The cemetery issues a certificate. This can be presented to the municipality or the panchayat for a death certificate.

Unless there is a legacy involved, a lot of people don’t care about the process.

By 2020, India had the capacity to dispose, with basic dignity, of approximately 30,000 corpses per day, in facilities in some 750 districts.

In April 2020, I said that just one additional cadaver per district per day could add up to 2 lakhs to 3 lakhs of additional deaths per year without emphasizing capacity or being visible.

There have been very visible excess mortality for more than ten weeks.

What kind of toll has the “second wave” and the government’s incompetent response inflicted?

Journalists who gathered data from cemetery death registers, death notices and counting corpses on riverbanks, believe the official Covid toll is underestimated by a factor of around 5 (5x) .

There have been waits of 12 to 30 hours in cemeteries, indicating that the deaths far exceeded “elimination capacity” for lack of a less sensitive term.

The official toll varies between 3,500 and 4,500 deaths per day during this period.

Assuming that 12 hours or more of waiting time translates to 50% excess of corpses over disposal capacity, approximately 45,000 people die each day.

This represents 18,000 more deaths per day, or 1.2 million more deaths in the past ten weeks.

This suggests a 4x or 5x subaccount.

Also note that there have been few fatalities due to accidents or violent crime.

This estimate surely has an error factor, but it fits the data samples much better than the official figures.

The three-month tally compares to disasters such as the Partition, the Bengal Famine and the influenza pandemic of the 1920s.

There haven’t been so many corpses thrown into the Ganges since the Kanpur massacre in 1857.

This led to the birth of an unusually large population of crocodiles and giant carp.

From 1921, Uttarakhand suffered the depredations of multiple man-eaters; Jim Corbett believed it was triggered by the availability of unburned corpses after the flu pandemic.

It wouldn’t be surprising if something similar happened again.

What are the real numbers?

Only the government has the capacity to collect all death data from all facilities and to count corpses dumped in rivers.

And the government is clearly not interested in finding out.

The second wave derailed hopes for an economic recovery.

It could be another year of recession.

Vaccine production figures and inoculation data clearly show that India will not achieve herd immunity for at least a year, if not longer.

By then, more dangerous mutations could occur and the healthcare system will also have to deal with threats such as fungal infections.

The dance of death will continue.



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