Skip to main content
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

People shop at a crowded roadside vegetable market after authorities eased coronavirus restrictions, following a drop in COVID-19 cases in Ahmedabad, India, June 15, 2021.

AMIT DAVE/Reuters

India’s excess deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic could be as high as 4.9 million, a new study shows, providing further evidence that millions more may have died from coronavirus than the official tally.

The report by the Washington-based Center for Global Development, co-authored by India’s former chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian, included deaths from all causes since the start of the pandemic through June this year.

India’s official tally of more than 414,000 deaths is the world’s third highest after the United States and Brazil, but the study adds to growing calls from experts for a rigorous nationwide audit of fatalities.

Story continues below advertisement

A devastating rise in infections in April and May, driven largely by the more infectious and dangerous Delta variant, overwhelmed the health care system and killed at least 170,000 people in May alone, official data show.

“What is tragically clear is that too many people, in the millions rather than hundreds of thousands, may have died,” the report said, estimating between 3.4 million and 4.9 million excess deaths during the pandemic.

But it did not ascribe all excess deaths to the pandemic.

“We focus on all-cause mortality, and estimate excess mortality relative to a pre-pandemic baseline, adjusting for seasonality,” the authors said.

The health ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters e-mail seeking comment.

Some experts have said excess deaths are the best way to measure the real toll from COVID-19.

“For every country, it’s important to capture excess mortality – the only way to prepare the health system for future shocks and to prevent further deaths,” Soumya Swaminathan, the chief scientist of the World Health Organization, said on Twitter.

Story continues below advertisement

The New York Times said the most conservative estimate of deaths in India was 600,000 and the worst-case scenario several times that. The government has dismissed those figures.

Health experts blame the undercounting largely on scarce resources in the vast hinterland home to two-thirds of India’s population of nearly 1.4 billion, and also many deaths at home without being tested.

India has reported a decline in daily infections from a May peak, with Tuesday’s 30,093 new cases making up its lowest daily count in four months.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has also been criticized for a messy vaccination campaign that many say helped worsen the second wave of infections.

Just over 8 per cent of eligible adult Indians have received both vaccine doses.

In July, the government administered fewer than four million daily doses on average, down from a record 9.2 million on June 21, when Mr. Modi flagged off a free campaign to inoculate all 950 million adults.

Story continues below advertisement

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies