The Problem With India’s Underreporting of COVID-19 Cases

The official count of Coronavirus cases in India seem impressive for a country with a population of over 1.3 billion people given how low the numbers are, but they seem a bit too impressive. The political agenda of the Indian government calls for the intentional miscount of daily Coronavirus cases as well as the deaths related to the virus, in order to make the situation seem under control.

The coronavirus situation in India is currently dire. Hospitals are overwhelmed with people, and the continued lack of oxygen furthers the loss of lives due to COVID-19.

Shubhangee Vyas / Unsplash

The coronavirus situation in India is currently dire. Hospitals are overwhelmed with people, and the continued lack of oxygen furthers the loss of lives due to COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a frightening experience for all Americans as the lockdown started over a year ago and halted all of our lives since. However, the situation in American appears to be improving with the  vaccine rollout percentages increasing across the country. This, unfortunately, is not a collective experience felt by the whole of the international community as India’s coronavirus situation has worsened over the past few weeks.

Hospitals in Delhi are prompted to stop taking in patients because aid cannot be provided to everybody admitted into the hospital. Dozens of people crowd the hallways of the hospitals without rooms as places of residence. They wear emergency oxygen masks without oxygen tanks needed to provide oxygen. 

Meanwhile, outside the hospitals but in very close proximity to them are crematoriums that also are rendered unable to admit more people as the maximum number of those to be cremated cannot be exceeded. The workers at the crematorium grounds cannot find relief as they must fulfill the duties that persistently overwhelm them.

The situation in India is evidently and undoubtedly dire, taking into consideration their massive population. India is the nation with the second largest population in the world, behind only China. On top of that, India is one of the most densely populated nations in the entire world with around 460 people per square kilometer living in the country.

Yet officially, the number of deaths related to Coronavirus in India continues to decrease and remains at a minimum, despite the supply shortages of oxygen to the nation as a whole, the overloading of several crematoriums across the country, and also India’s significantly large population density.

These numbers seem almost too good to be true and as it turns out, they indeed are. The Indian government is misconstruing the details of their coronavirus situation.

“It is absolutely unethical. Reporting everything about COVID-19 is crucial to managing a pandemic and distributing resources. It is unethical to cover up cases when so many people are suffering. A reposting of their numbers is necessary because the information is key to helping the people keep calm. If the people can’t trust the government, they won’t listen to government orders, meaning that chaos will ensue,” said Luke Jow ’22.

The Indian government is choosing to not report accurate COVID-19 information and numbers. These conclusions that the number of recorded deaths is underestimated were drawn from frequent visits of observers to various hospitals in New Delhi, the capital of India, as well as the city’s crematories. The coordinators of these crematories proclaim that they cremate at most twenty deceased people per day, but the observers have assured, in agreement, that they can see a burning fire from sunrise to sundown. Moreover, in hospitals, families of deceased individuals have said that the doctors label the causes of deaths, which are evidently related to COVID-19, as arising from “natural causes,” without specification on those natural causes.

All of these are attempts at keeping the recorded numbers lower than they actually are. The rationale behind hiding the true numbers of COVID-19 deaths is unknown, but it is apparent that one of the largest reasons for doing so is a part of the Indian government’s political agenda to make themselves appear competent to the international community and to their own citizens. “They can’t have their reputation diminished by a Covid-19 outbreak, especially when the rest of the world is beginning to return to normal,” said Leslie Sampaney ’23. 

Another prominent motive for the Indian government’s actions could be their attempt at intentionally underestimating the numbers in order to reduce fear amongst Indian citizens and allow them to go about their lives with a false sense of security. “I believe the answer to be pretty simple. The government just wants to downplay the number of deaths to keep people from panicking and possibly making the situation any worse than it already has become,” said Bushra Shahriar ’24.

Though, is it better to conceal the truth in order to preserve hope amongst citizens or to be transparent so that the citizens understand the complications and circumstances of the entire situation? When asked this question, Sarah Oh ’24 replied, “I believe a government should be more transparent and honest when it comes to these sorts of issues. If the people are not made fully aware of what is going on, they could potentially wander around in a carefree manner and actually end up worsening the situation. If a government can’t be one hundred percent transparent with issues like this, their people may lose their faith and trust in it and its elected officials.” 

Truth and transparency are paramount in all matters related to the Coronavirus pandemic. The government of India must strive to honestly explain their actions and must record an accurate number of deaths related to COVID-19, because truth must remain a priority for the world’s largest democracy.

“If a government can’t be one hundred percent transparent with issues like this, their people may lose their faith and trust in it and its elected officials,” said Sarah Oh ’24.

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