Health professionals have accused India of hiding the true number of COVID-19 deaths across the country, as it deals with a “tsunami” of new infections.
On Sunday, India recorded the highest daily increase in COVID-19 cases in the world with 352,991 new infections. And its second wave is showing no signs of stopping with 323,023 cases and 2771 deaths officially recorded on Tuesday.
However, there are fears these disturbing figures could be even higher than what is being officially reported.
Scientists have been using serology surveys to get a more accurate measure of infection rates, with a previous national survey showing the number of cases in India is likely “20 to 30 times higher than what had been reported”, according to CNN.
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Applying this to India’s latest figures raises the estimated total infections for the country to 529 million cases, more than half a billion infections.
Director of the Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy in New Delhi, Ramanan Laxminarayan, told the publication it was “widely known” the case numbers and death toll were being under-reported.
“Last year we estimated that only one in about 30 infections were being caught by testing, so the reported cases are a serious underestimate of true infections,” he said.
“This time, the mortality figures are probably serious underestimates, and what we’re seeing on the ground is many more deaths than what has been officially reported.”
Crematoriums overflowing with COVID victims
University of Michigan epidemiologist Bhramar Mukherjee labelled the COVID-19 figures coming out of India as a “complete massacre of data”.
She told The New York Times the modelling she and her colleagues have gathered suggest the number of deaths are at least double what officials are currently saying.
“From all the modelling we’ve done, we believe the true number of deaths is two to five times what is being reported,” Professor Mukherjee said.
Crematoriums across the country are overflowing, with some forced to build makeshift facilities in car parks.
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There have been multiple reports of discrepancies in the numbers being reported by crematoriums and the number of cremations actually taking place.
On April 17, the state of Gujarat claimed 78 COVID-19 deaths but newspapers reported 689 cremations linked to the virus took place across seven of the state’s cities that same day.
Similar complaints have also surfaced in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
Suresh Bhai, a worker at one of the large cremation grounds in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, told The New York Times he had been instructed by his bosses to write “sickness” instead of COVID-19 on the documentation handed over to families of victims.
Doctors beg for help as hospitals overwhelmed
Hospitals are also being crushed under the new wave of infections, with limited supplies leaving doctors begging for help.
Over the past week, multiple Indian states have reported running out of medical oxygen, with patients dying as a result.
New Delhi medic, Dr Gautam Singh, posted a desperate video to social media on Sunday begging for critical medical supplies to keep his patients alive.
“Please send oxygen to us,” he said through a choked voice.
“My patients are dying.”
Trains carrying nearly 150 tonnes of liquid oxygen have been sent out to the worst-affected areas of the country.
Multiple countries have pledged aid to India, with the US and Britain rushing ventilators and vaccine materials to the country.
Crates of ventilators and other oxygen devices from Britain were unloaded at a Delhi airport Tuesday, the first emergency medical supplies to arrive in the country.