'Completely baseless and false': Centre on NYT report on COVID deaths in India

NEW DELHI: The government on Thursday dismissed as “completely baseless” a recent New York Times report on COVID-19 toll in India, saying it is not backed by any evidence.

At a press conference, the Union health ministry said the report is absolutely false and based on “distorted estimates”.

The report titled “Just how big could India’s true Covid toll be” estimated 600,000 deaths due to the infection in the country in a conservative scenario, 1.6 million estimated deaths in a more likely scenario and 4.2 million estimated deaths in a worse scenario.

Dismissing the report, Health ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said, “It is completely baseless and absolutely false and not backed on any evidence.”

“The question does not arise that Covid-related deaths are getting concealed because since the beginning, our efforts have been that all cases and deaths are reported in a transparent manner. It is also necessary so that we can understand the overall trajectory of infection and what efforts have to be made so that required actions can be taken for it,” he said.

NITI Aayog Member (Health) V K Paul said the report is based on distorted estimates.

“The estimates have been done ad-hoc without any basis. reported cases are a part of a larger universe of total infections in any country,” he said.

He said the problem in the analysis arises “when certain number is thrown as mortality rate out of that infection”.

“If we go with our sero survey, then infection related mortality is 0.05 per cent and actual mortality is 1.1 per cent. They are taking 0.3 per cent – 6 times – on what basis has it been decided that it is 0.3 per cent of that large infection number – no basis at all,” Paul said.

He further said that if the same method is used, then by that estimate New York reported 50,000 deaths in May.

“I make it six times, it is 90,000 deaths and if I do it 12 times, it is 1.75 lakh deaths but they don’t say that, they say it is 16,000. What I mean to say here is this is a distorted estimate for mortality.For infection estimate, they used our data only from January which can still be acceptable,” Paul said.

“On what basis this group pulls out infection mortality rate of 0.3 per cent in one scenario and 0.15 another scenario and 0.6 in another scenario? On what basis, this is just an assumption and a feeling of some people and this is something that should have been not published particularly in so called prestigious publication. I submit that we have a strong mortality tracking system which has stood the test of time,” he said.

Paul said there might be deaths where testing was not done but “outrageous factor suddenly without any basis and just on assumption is not fair and we don’t accept it”.