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With 600 COVID19 deaths in India reported by the government, MATTHEW FEARGRIEVE asks whether the official reports from Delhi can be trusted. Is the coronavirus death toll in India much higher?

A woman in India is tested for COVID19 infection by a health worker
COVID testing in New Delhi

The official COVID death tally given by the Modi governent is around 600. But five of the 15 hospitals in Delhi have said that many more patients have died, and are dying, than the official reports suggest.

These hospitals have confirmed that a minimum of 577 people have died from coronavirus in Delhi alone, which exceeds the government's report of 523 deaths- in the whole of the New Delhi region - as at 1 June.

Ramananan Laxminarayan of the Center for Disease Dynamics said that "there is systematic undercounting of COVID deaths". Some of the Delhi hospitals that were approached for comment refused to comment or release their death figures. But the feedback and comment provided by fifteen of the Delhi hospitals that are treating COVID patients has fuelled speculation that the Modi administration is hiding the true scale of the coronavirus pandemic in India.

There has been widespread criticism in India of the government's response to the virus. One of the Delhi hospitals has disclosed that the government has banned the collection of coronavirus samples from untested dead bodies, a covert move that many see as a deliberate attempt to suppress the true death toll from becoming public knowledge.

Doctors in the Delhi hospitals are reporting daily COVID deaths of around 15 each day, and have told us that they feel the situation is getting out of control.

This blogsite reported in May that the outlook for India, with its 1.3bn population, its poverty and its crowded slums, was particularly vulnerable to the ravaging effect of the coronavirus. But, so far, the official death figures reported by the Modi government have suggested that the pandemic is having a far less devastating impact on India than was first feared.

The Aam Aadmi party, which governs the New Delhi region, has been accused of recording only 25% of coronavirus deaths. This was backed up by a senior executive of a large hospital in Delhi, who did not want to be named for fear of government retribution.

Aam Aadmi, which was praised when it announced that there had been only 18 coronavirus deaths in Kerala state, have denied that there has been deliberate under-reporting of CVID deaths in New Delhi, and blamed the hospitals in Delhi for not properly reporting the fatality figures.

The Center for Disease Dynamics have told the World Health Organisation (WHO) that it thinks that the COVID infection rate is dramatically increasing in India, and that more than 200 million people in India could be infected with the virus by September.

Sexy Bollywood actress Sunny Leone meets Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India
Sunny Leone was rumoured to be meeting Narendra Modi for talks to end the lockdown

This blogsite reported last week on the growing dissatisfaction in India with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's handling of the pandemic crisis. A number of Bollywood stars, including glamour actress Sunny Leone, have added their voices to calls for an end to the lockdown that Modi imposed in March.

The lockdown led to an estimated 25 million day labourers and migrant workers being forced to leave the ciitieis and walk hundreds of miles back to their home towns and villages. Police oppression of the migrants caught the attention of the international media, resulting in embarrassment for the Modi government.

There were even rumours in May that Sunny Leone was to travel from her home in Los Angeles, USA to meet with Prime Minister Modi to discuss ending the lockdown extension. You can read more about this by clicking here.

Health experts have suggested that India's relatively young population will protect it, to some extent, from a virus that seems, as we have seen in China and Europe, to prey on elderly people with underlying health problems. This is very much the hope in Africa, which as at 12 June has reported 6,000 coronavirus deaths. You can read our report on how Africa is tackling the spread of the virus by clicking here, and how India is doing in comparison by clicking here.

AUTHOR: MATTHEW FEARGRIEVE. You can read more of Matthew Feargrieve's blogs by clicking here.


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