Coronavirus cases in India crossed the 1 million-mark last week and it almost seemed as if the naysayers were correct after all. Several news reports within the country and outside suggested that things in India, now among the top three nations with the number of cases, were now getting out of hand.
Immediately, pundits came out openly slamming the government for mishandling the situation.
Of course, many have also doubted the authenticity of the reported figures—both for the number of total positive cases as well as deaths. “The numbers, which are officially released, are fudged, actually on-the-ground-situation is far worse and hopeless, we will soon become number one,” a political analyst said a couple of weeks ago, when India was way short of the 1 million mark.
The Washington Post wrote a few days ago, “India’s comparatively low death rates—both as a percentage of total cases and per million population—are something of a mystery. The Indian government has cited the figures repeatedly to reassure a worried populace, saying such statistics show the country is faring better than many others in the pandemic. That optimism appears misplaced.”
It added that coronavirus deaths were being misreported and that testing rates per capita in the country remained low. Not just foreign media, many Indian media outfits too have raised their eyebrows over the not-so-large death numbers when compared to the overall population.
There is no denying that there could have been “some misreporting,” but to totally dismiss the official figures is equally stupefying.
Many pundits have questioned India’s figures. The fact is governments cannot hide large number of deaths, especially as India has a federal structure.
The figures are collated from the states, which have different political dispensations. That apart, India has a free media, notwithstanding claims by many that the press is losing its independence.
Even before the pandemic broke out in India, a section of medical experts including eminent epidemiologists had said that the virus strain here may have mutated and become a tad weaker. Besides, a few medical experts also suggested that immunity among Indians may be stronger and a large section of the people here would have had tuberculosis or malaria, which may reduce chances of getting the novel coronavirus.
The Washington Post further wrote that the death “figures are highly sensitive to testing rates and death reporting, so they have limited value.” India’s death rate is 2.6 per cent—lower than in many other countries.
While many have raised doubts over the numbers being reported from the rural areas, the fact remains that the local authorities, panchayats, Asha workers, etc., have risen to the occasion and have successfully managed to contain the spread of the disease.
Try going to the faraway districts in any state; you will not be welcomed. Many states will not allow you to enter without a coronavirus test or you will have to adhere to the quarantine norms. Thousands of migrant workers who had returned home too had to face similar problems.
In a nutshell, there is no empirical evidence to suggest that the official numbers underestimate the corona toll; at least the underestimation is not massive..