Over 63 million people in India may have contracted coronavirus health authorities said on Tuesday, which is 10 times higher than official numbers reported.
A survey of more than 29,000 people across 700 villages and wards found that about one in 15 people above the age of 10 had antibodies against the coronavirus, according to the Indian Council of Medical Research.
The survey was conducted between mid-August to mid-September.
Antibody tests, also known as serology tests, check for proteins called antibodies in the immune system, which indicate if someone has been exposed to the virus.
Of the country’s 1.3 billion citizens, more than 966 million are aged 10 or above, according to the government’s most recent census in 2011. If one in 15 people of this group have been infected with Covid-19, that’s a total of 63.78 million people.
India so far has reported 6.2 million infections and 97,807 deaths according to COVID19India tracker.
The survey suggests that for every one infection officially reported, there are actually 26 to 32 people infected who slip through the cracks, said Dr. Balram Bhargava, director of the medical council, at a news conference on Tuesday.
Ramanan Laxminarayan, a senior research scholar at Princeton University, predicted that the country may be undercounting infections by a factor of 50 to 100 — meaning the “true” number could be upwards of 100 million.
One simple reason behind the discrepancy is insufficient testing. India has stepped up its testing, almost doubling the amount of tests conducted during the month of August — but it still lags far behind other major countries.
Only about 82 of every 100,000 people in India are being tested per day, according to Johns Hopkins University — compared to about 284 in the US and 329 in the United Kingdom.
When a coronavirus patient tested positive before dying, they might not be counted as a Covid-19 death if they had other preexisting conditions, such as diabetes or cancer, which could be recorded as the cause of death instead, he added.
And this explains India’s mortality rate of 1.6% looks much lower than other countries compared to 2.9% in the US, 9.5% in the UK, and 11.5% in Italy.