It was in March 2020 when India reported its first ever death from the virus. Since then, it has witnessed three waves of the pandemic — with varying intensities — and launched a mega vaccination programme which has helped reduced fatalities in the last few months.
However, several reports have suggested that India and many other countries (US, Brazil, etc) have vastly undercounted their Covid deaths. They claim that the official figures are just a fraction of the actual toll of the pandemic.
Even the Supreme Court recently held that official Covid stats are “not true” as it directed states not to reject claims of bereaved families on technical grounds.
Nonetheless, for this analysis, we will only go by the official figures reported by the government as an indicative measure of Covid’s impact in India.
Story of three waves
While several states have seen the pandemic rise and decline in multiple waves, India, as a whole, witnessed three big waves of the pandemic.
The impact of each Covid wave is evident from the graphs above.
The first wave, which hit India around mid-2020, spurred a rise in fatalities around June with the peak daily deaths going past 1,000 in September. This was the time when vaccines were not available in the country.
India witnessed nearly 1.55 lakh deaths during this period.
The second wave was clearly the most devastating of the three when the potent Delta variant barreled across India. The country lost over 3.24 lakh citizens during this period.
The case fatality rate (no. of people who died out of those found positive) was slightly lesser in the second wave compared to the first. While India had started vaccinating vulnerable sections of people during this period, it cannot be ascertained whether that was the exact reason behind a marginally lower CFR.
If reports are to be believed, the actual toll of the Delta wave could be way higher.
Even the official count reflects the torrential impact of the wave. It took India just over two months to add over two lakh fatalities to its toll.
Meanwhile, the third wave of the pandemic has been the most forgiving so far. With a majority of the eligible population fully vaccinated against Covid, the Omicron wave led to the death of around 11,000 citizens.
Furthermore, most of the deaths recorded in the ongoing wave were among those who were unvaccinated or had underlying conditions.
Maharashtra worst-hit, Kerala second
The three worst-hit states in India in terms of cases have also reported the most deaths (in the same order) in the pandemic.
Maharashtra accounts for 28.5% of all Covid deaths reported in India while Kerala makes up around 11.4%.
Delhi, which has fewer cases than Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, has reported more deaths than these two states.
Overall, the first worst-hit states in India (Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu & Delhi) account for 60% of all Covid deaths reported since the outbreak.
While India is the third worst-hit country in terms of fatalities, it has the lowest case fatality ratio among the most impacted nations.
In fact, to get a better picture, we have compared India’s deaths per million people to other badly-hit nations.
Currently, India has lost roughly 358 people per million population. This is way lower than per million toll in countries like US (2,767), Brazil (2,936) and UK (2,308).
In fact, US and Brazil, the only two nations which have reported more Covid deaths, hit the 5-lakh mark way earlier than India.
US crossed 5 lakh deaths in February 2021 when its total case count was 2.8 crore. Brazil hit the same mark in June 2021, when it only had 1.7 crore total cases.
On the other hand, India reached the mark two days ago at 4.2 crore total cases.
While this reflects that India managed to do well in terms of avoiding fatalities, the estimate is strictly based on the officially reported figures.
The real picture may well be different.