India reported its highest ever single-day death toll from COVID-19 — 6,148 deaths – after an eastern state sharply raised its figures to account for people who succumbed to the disease at home or in private hospitals.
The health department of Bihar, one of India’s poorest states, revised its total COVID-related death toll on Wednesday to more than 9,400 from about 5,400.
Bihar revised its toll after the regional High Court asked for an audit of casualties during the second wave of the coronavirus in April and May.
The court’s order followed allegations that the state government was hiding the scale of infections and deaths.
An audit of deaths revealed that while 1,600 people died of COVID in Bihar between March 2020 and March 2021, the number of deaths from April to June 7 this year was a staggering 7,775, about six times more.
State capital Patna bore the brunt of the outbreak, accounting for a total of 2,303 deaths, media reports said.
The discovery of thousands of unreported deaths in Bihar lends weight to suspicion that India’s overall death tally is significantly more than the official figure.
Indian hospitals ran out of beds and life-saving oxygen during a devastating second wave of coronavirus in April and May and people died in parking lots outside hospitals and at their homes.
Many of those deaths were not recorded in COVID-19 tallies, doctors and health experts say.
The newly reported deaths had occurred last month and state officials were investigating the lapse, a district health official said, blaming the oversight on private hospitals.
“These deaths occurred 15 days ago and were only uploaded now in the government portal. Action will be taken against some of the private hospitals,” said the official.
Health experts say they believe both coronavirus infections and deaths are being significantly undercounted across the country partly because test facilities are rare in rural areas, where two-thirds of Indians live, and hospitals are few and far.
Many people have fallen ill and died at home without being tested for the coronavirus.
As crematoriums struggled to handle the wave of deaths over the past two months, many families placed bodies in the Ganges river or buried them in shallow graves on its sandbanks.
Those people would likely not have been registered as COVID victims.
The New York Times estimated deaths based on death counts over time and infection fatality rates and put India’s toll at 600,000 to 1.6 million.
The government dismissed those estimates as exaggerated. But the main opposition Congress party said that other states must follow Bihar’s example and conduct a review of deaths over the past two months.