The coronavirus outbreak in India has already claimed more lives in May than any other month so far since the pandemic began, with almost a week of daily death tolls sure to be in the thousands still to come.
Almost 95,390 people have lost their lives to Covid-19 in the month up to Tuesday, accounting for as much as 30 per cent of India’s total coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Even as daily infections are starting to come down – though still numbering in the hundreds of thousands – the country’s Covid death trajectory shows the curve turning into a wall with a seven-day moving average of daily death counts still on the rise.
But even these soaring official statistics for Covid-19 deaths do not capture the full scale of the crisis, as experts say both the infection and death figures are likely to be vastly underreported.
India’s daily Covid cases peaked on 6 May with 414,000 infections, and have been showing signs of receding since then. But the question remains as to when deaths will peak, with tolls still rising more than two weeks after the peak in infections.
Speaking to The Independent, India’s top virologist Shahid Jameel said on average it takes two to three weeks from infection for a patient’s outcome to be determined – to reach either mortality or recovery.
“Therefore, ideally the mortality curve should peak after two to three weeks’ lag,” said Dr Jameel, who recently made headlines for quitting a top government Covid panel.
Dr Jameel echoed the longstanding doubts of experts regarding India’s official Covid counts, saying the country may be undercounting deaths by a factor of around five to 10.
“You are seeing people waiting in line, not just to get into a hospital, but actually for their loved ones to be cremated, to be buried. That can only happen when even that system gets overwhelmed,” he told The Indian Express.
Rather than any cover-up, he said this was partly because deaths are not well tracked and registered in India even during normal times and “our registry [system] is weak”.
India’s toll crossed the 300,000 mark on Monday, with about 50 per cent of those fatalities reported in just the last three months as a devastating second wave has swept across the country.
For the first time in months, fewer than 200,000 new Covid cases (around 196,000) were reported in the 24 hours ending Tuesday morning, along with more than 3,500 deaths.
Dr Jameel said that even as cases are receding it is “not going to be an easy climbdown” as there are still more susceptible people who are yet to be infected and with the presence of more infectious variants in the country.
“It is going to be a more prolonged, drawn-out process running possibly into July, maybe even into August. We’ll just have to keep an eye on it,” he said.
The lag death tolls could also be attributed to the fact that several states are still counting a backlog of deaths. Almost half of the daily tallies in India’s Maharashtra state include deaths that occurred two weeks ago, according to local media reports. States like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are also reporting high death rates as they are attempting to clear their backlogs.