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“We burn Pyrenees all day”: India accused of undercounting deaths

Fear of cover-ups as crematoriums doubles Covid deaths as the official coronavirus death toll – latest updates See all of our coronavirus reports Funeral Pyrenees for those who died of Covid-19 in New Delhi. Photo: Altaf Qadri / AP As India battles through one of the world’s deadliest outbreaks of the Covid-19 pandemic, India’s Health Minister Harsh Vardhan this week insisted that its death rate from the disease remain “the lowest in the world”. It was a statement that, with the devastating images and reports that have flowed out of India over the past fortnight, shook overcrowded hospitals and morgues, people dying from lack of oxygen on sidewalks, and crematoriums and cemeteries visibly full of corpses . India’s official death toll has continued to rise relentlessly. On Saturday it was another record day with 401,993 new cases and 3,523 deaths. However, health experts widely believe that the official daily numbers do not come close to reflecting the actual number of deaths. Because Covid-19 patients could not get into hospitals, many died at home, often without ever being tested. Meanwhile, state governments and local authorities have been accused of miscalculating, covering up, and covering up the actual death toll in their states. Last month, in the city of Bangalore, Karnataka – where the number of cases is among the fastest growing in the country – the number of Covid-related deaths recorded in crematoria was twice the official death toll. The cover-up allegations were particularly widespread in Uttar Pradesh, where the state government is controlled by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the stubborn Prime Minister Yogi Adityanath has insisted that the state is not starved of oxygen and has threatened to persecute those who ” Spread panic “. The authorities have denied any cover-up. In the city of Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, the data collected by the observer show a large discrepancy between the official death toll recorded by the local authority and the information provided by those who operate the crematoria and cemeteries. According to official statistics, Muzaffarnagar had only 10 Covid deaths in four days at the end of April. However, Ajay Kumar Agarwal, president of the Muzaffarnagar city crematorium, said this was nowhere near the size of the bodies he handled. “In normal times we cremated three bodies a day, but it has increased over the past 10 days,” he said. “One day it was 18, another day it was 20, then 22, and one day 25. For the past 10 days we had no fewer than 12 bodies a day – 90% of them died from corona.” With only seven pyrenes in Muzaffarnagar’s town crematorium, Agarwal said they were so overwhelmed that they had to cremate the bodies in the open ground and send some to another crematorium 20 miles away. “The situation here is pathetic,” he said. Agarwal claimed “wrong” numbers were released and turned down proposals the city had not seen in any day this week without Covid deaths or just two deaths. “The government doesn’t publish the correct death numbers,” he said. “I don’t understand why they are hiding them. Maybe they don’t want people to panic. “Sanjay Mittal, in Muzaffarnagar’s only other crematorium, New Mandi, told similar scenes. He said he had “never seen a situation like this in my life – we burn pyrenees from morning to night”. According to Mittal, before the pandemic, New Mandi crematorium typically received five bodies a day. But on April 27th they received 21 bodies, on April 28th it was 15 and on April 29th it was 18. He couldn’t confirm how many had been Covid-19 positive. “It is noon and we already had 12 bodies. Who knows how many there will be at the end of the day, ”he said on Friday. A similar surge in dead bodies in recent times has also been reported by Abdul Quadir, who runs the Muslim cemetery in Muzaffarnagar. “Before the corona, we buried two to three bodies a week, but now six to seven bodies arrive every day,” he said. “So far only three of these bodies have come out of the hospital, the rest have died at home and have not been tested.” Official government data confirms very low Covid-19 test rates in Muzaffarnagar; No tests were performed in the area on Tuesday April 27, while only 561 tests were performed on April 29, all positive. A patient is given oxygen in a car in New Delhi, where the lack of oxygen has become severe. Photo: Altaf Qadri / AP A doctor from the Indian Medical Association in Uttar Pradesh, who did not want to be named, said many people died from diseases such as pneumonia and pulmonary fibrosis that they had due to Covid-19 complications. He said, “The number of these deaths is very high, but they are not counted as coronavirus deaths.” He added, “We accept that the death toll from coronavirus is much higher than the county government’s public records. The bodies that pile up in the crematoria are mainly people who were treated at home and died there. The number of such deaths is also high, but most of them are not recorded in official data. The test rate here is very low compared to what is required. “Muzaffarnagar’s chief medical officer did not respond to requests for comment. Murad Banaji, a mathematician who modeled the Covid-19 pandemic in India, said, “Multiple streams of evidence show that undercounting Covid deaths is a major problem in India.” He added: “Before we congratulate ourselves on a low death rate in India, it must first be made clear that we do not have a good idea of ​​how many people in the country are dying from Covid.” Banaji estimates that the death toll in India is at least three times higher than the official figures. This is based on calculations from cities like Mumbai, where he looked at the number of “excessive deaths” recorded in the city’s first pandemic in 2020 (excessive deaths refer to the number of deaths that is the average number of Deaths usually exceed recorded in one place each year). Banaji discovered that there was an unprecedented increase in such deaths in Mumbai, and for every recorded Covid-19 death, there was an excess death that was not labeled as being caused by Covid. “Not all of these excessive deaths could be from Covid-19,” Banaji said. “But from what we can see from international data and studies, it was most likely, and in Mumbai’s case, my estimates are that at least 60% to 70% of these additional excessive deaths are from Covid.” Such calculations would raise Mumbai’s actual death toll from 13,000 to about 21,000. However, Banaji stressed that in rural and impoverished areas of India in states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where healthcare infrastructure, death certificates and Covid tests are limited, the number of unreported Covid deaths “is likely to be huge, much higher than to a city like Mumbai ”. The ramifications for India not accurately reporting the actual death toll from the pandemic are far-reaching. If, as many believe, the undercounting occurs most frequently in marginalized communities, the real toll the pandemic is having on those groups is likely never to be recognized, and this will affect the distribution of resources after the pandemic and accountability to local authorities or governments . Similarly, experts fear that this could affect the state’s ability to develop an effective vaccination strategy to combat future surges. “If we don’t have the data to fully understand what’s happening with this pandemic now,” said Banaji, “how can India possibly prepare for the future?”