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‘Speculative’: Govt on Report That Says COVID Deaths 7 Times More

“It’s a “speculative article”, “without any basis”and “misinformed,” the government said to The Economist report.

Published
India
2 min read
“It’s a “speculative article”, “without any basis”and “misinformed,” the government said to <i>The Economist </i>report.
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Refuting a report that claimed that India’s COVID deaths would be “five to seven times” higher than the government’s official numbers, the government said that the assessment was based on extrapolation of data without epidemiological evidence.

The Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said that the article that made the claim was purely speculative.

"The unsound analysis of the said article is based on the extrapolation of data without any epidemiological evidence," the ministry said, adding that the studies used by the magazine to estimate the mortality are not validated tools for determining the death rate of any country or region,” the ministry said.

What the Report Said vs the Health Ministry’s Response

To put the Centre’s rebuttal of The Economist report in perspective, we look at what the report states and the Centre’s response to it. The Centre called the report, “without any basis” and “misinformed”.

Quoting a paper by Christopher Leffler of Virginia Commonwealth University in America, the report states that it analyses data on excess mortality from different parts of India. Consequently, the data emerged with a rough estimate of between 1.8m and 2.4m deaths from the disease since the start of the pandemic.

The government’s response: The so called “evidence” cited by the magazine is a study supposedly done by Christopher Laffler of Virginia Commonwealth University. An internet search of research studies in scientific database such Pubmed, Research Gate, etc., did not locate this study and the detailed methodology of this study has not been provided by the magazine.

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The report states: Quoting a second recent study from Telangana, based on insurance claims, ‘suggests that the virus has killed as many as six times more people than official numbers admit’.

The government’s response: Another evidence given is the study done in Telengana based on insurance claims. Again, there is no peer reviewed scientific data available on such study.

The report states: A new polling group Prashnam asked 15,000 people across mostly rural areas in north Indian Hindi-speaking areas if anyone had died of COVID in their family or neighborhood. Seventeen percent of them said yes. Another polling group, C-Voter has been quoted in the paper. According to the survey the respondents were asked if any immediate family members had died of COVID, to which the answers rose in April and May peaking to 7.4 percent. Their numbers reflect a trend line, which match the official figure.

The government’s response: Two other studies relied upon are those done by Psephology groups namely “Prashnam” and “C-Voter” who are well versed in conducting, predicting and analysing poll results. They were never ever associated with public health research. Even in their own area of work of psephology, their methodologies for predicting poll results have been wide off the mark many times.

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The Health Ministry press release also said, “Union Health Ministry has also regularly emphasised the need for a robust reporting mechanism for monitoring district-wise cases and deaths on a daily basis. States consistently reporting lower number of daily deaths were told to re-check their data. A case in point is the Union Government writing to the state of Bihar to provide detailed date and district-wise break-up of the reconciled number of deaths to Union Health Ministry.”

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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