How big is India's true Covid toll? Least dire scenario
shows 600k deaths
The official Covid-19 figures in India grossly understate the true scale of the pandemic in
the country. Last week, India recorded the largest daily death toll for any country during
the pandemic — a figure that is most likely still an undercount.
Even getting a clear picture of the total number of infections in India is hard because of
poor record-keeping and a lack of widespread testing. Estimating the true number of
deaths requires a second layer of extrapolation, depending on the share of those
infected who end up dying.
In consultation with more than a dozen experts, The New York Times has analyzed case
and death counts over time in India, along with the results of large-scale antibody tests,
to arrive at several possible estimates for the true scale of devastation in the country.
Even in the least dire of these, estimated infections and deaths far exceed official
figures. More pessimistic ones show a toll on the order of millions of deaths — the most
catastrophic loss anywhere in the world.
Why official data underrepresents India’s pandemic
India’s official Covid statistics report 26,948,800 cases and 307,231 deaths as of May
Even in countries with robust surveillance during this pandemic, the number of infections
is probably much higher than the number of confirmed cases because many people
have contracted the virus but have not been tested for it. On Friday, a report by the
World Health Organization estimated that the global death toll of Covid-19 may be two or
three times higher than reported.
The undercount of cases and deaths in India is most likely even more pronounced, for
technical, cultural and logistical reasons. Because hospitals are overwhelmed, many
Covid deaths occur at home, especially in rural areas, and are omitted from the official
count, said Kayoko Shioda, an epidemiologist at Emory University. Laboratories that
could confirm the cause of death are equally swamped,