Politics of Death

GOI has made two eye-catching observations in Parliament about the second Covid wave.

  1. The states had reported that there were no deaths due to medical oxygen shortage, or due to lack of testing and treatment.
  2. GoI’s data showed that 2.35 lakh deaths, or 56% of all Covid fatalities till date, took place in three months of April 2021- June 2021.

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Contradiction: This goes against the collective experience of the indian citizens, as most of the COVID mortalities happened within those three months.

Why: The problem is states and hospitals are probably using record-keeping protocols to avoid grim facts.

  1. In order to assess the facts, the most commonly used source now is the Civil Registration System (CRS), a record of deaths maintained by states. Though the system does not offer data on just Covid deaths, it shows “excess mortality” in 2020-21 that can be assumed to have been influenced largely by the pandemic.
  2. An alternative indicator is the GoI’s Sample Registration System (SRS), a demographic survey, which is available till only 2019.

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Politics behind this: Deaths are often used as a proxy for governance in political rhetoric. Politics over deaths provides perverse incentives to undercount and underplay the severity, helped by the fact that Covid death registration guidelines are too tight.

Corrective Action: The way out is for GoI to do a proper SRS, a survey that’s been in place for 50 years. GoI’s data shows that so far there are 4.18 lakh Covid fatalities, which is 1.34% of people who tested positive. But if sero surveys indicate that the number of people infected is far larger than test data, what’s the real scale of fatalities? The answer can only come through a nationwide demographic survey.


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