India registered about 475,000 more total deaths in 2020 than the previous year, government data released months ahead of schedule on Tuesday showed, as the World Health Organization (WHO) – whose methodology New Delhi has opposed – readies its estimates of excess COVID-19 deaths, which Reuters reports that some experts estimate India’s actual COVID death toll to be as high as 4m.
The experts expressed concern especially over a record wave driven by the Delta variant that killed thousands of people in April and May last year. The WHO’s estimate will be published on Thursday 5 May.
However, health official Vinod Kumar Paul, who has overseen the country’s fight against the pandemic, said there was nothing “dramatic” in the total death data for 2020. “Those are absolute, correct and counted numbers.”
He said the data showing 8.1m total deaths in India in 2020 were released by the Office of the Registrar General two to three months in advance because of the attention focused on the country’s COVID toll.
“There is a public narrative in the media, based on various modelling estimates, that India’s COVID-19 deaths are many times the reported figure – that’s not the case in reality. We now have actual robust data for 2020 … Modelling can lead to overestimation, absurd estimation.”
India officially reported 148,738 COVID-19 deaths in 2020, the tally jumping to 523,889 on Tuesday out of more than 43m cumulative infections. Only the United States and Brazil have recorded more deaths as of Tuesday.
India has said it does not agree with the WHO’s methodology, though the scientists working on the latest estimates have defended it.
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