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India's COVID-19 deaths likely much higher than official figure, study finds

Homeless and migrant laborers affected by the COVID-19 lockdown queue up to receive free cooked food distributed by Sikh volunteers in New Delhi, India, on May 18, 2021. Photo by Abhishek/UPI | License Photo

July 20 (UPI) -- A comprehensive study of the COVID-19 outbreak in India indicates that there may be millions more dead of the disease in the country than government figures show, experts said Tuesday.

India's official toll shows more than 400,000 dead as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The Center for Global Development said in its report, however, that excess deaths in India could actually be close to 5 million.

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Researchers examined death registrations from states covering half of India's population, then applied international estimates of age-specific infection fatality rates. Experts then reviewed India's consumer survey of 868,000 individuals, which also documents if any family members died in the past four months.

"All estimates suggest that the death toll from the pandemic is likely to be an order of magnitude greater than the official count of 400,000," the Center for Global Development said in a statement.

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"They also suggest that the first wave was more lethal than is believed. Understanding and engaging with the data-based estimates is necessary because in this horrific tragedy the counting."

Arvind Subramanian, India's former chief economic adviser and one of the authors of the study, said it's likely that India's COVID-19 death toll is much higher.

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"Two of our three estimates measure all-cause mortality and not COVID-19 deaths," Subramanian told BBC News.

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"Our second measure is a bit closer to a number of [actual] COVID-19 deaths, but it is only one of three estimates."

The researchers concluded that "true deaths" are likely to be in the several million, not hundreds of thousands, making the pandemic arguably India's "worst human tragedy since partition and independence."

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