The Centre on Thursday dismissed a report in The New York Times that claimed that India’s coronavirus toll and infections count could be much higher than the official data, reported PTI.

The report said that even in a conservative scenario, India’s toll could be as high as 6 lakh and the tally of infections could be 404.2 million, or 40.42 crore, as of May 24. India’s official coronavirus tally since the beginning of the pandemic in January 2020 stands at 2.73 crore and 3.15 lakh deaths, according to the Union health ministry data as of Thursday.

Union health ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said that the report was “baseless and absolutely false” and not backed by 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,” said Agarwal. “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.”

Niti Aayog member VK Paul said the report was 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.

Paul said it was possible that the infections tally was higher but claimed that it could not be the same for the toll, reported NDTV. “There may be some late reporting of deaths but there’s no intent [to under-report] by any state or the Centre,” he said. “If I apply the same three times yardstick to New York, then there would be 50,000 deaths. But they say it’s 16,000.”

The report

The report said The New York Times did the analysis in consultation with a dozen experts, examining deaths and infections counts as well as the results of antibody tests.

It clarified that the number of infections could be higher than the reported figure even across countries with robust surveillance as many residents might not have been tested for the infection. However, the report said that the undercounting in India was more pronounced “for technical, cultural and logistical reasons”.

The analysis took data from three countrywide sero surveys conducted to make the estimates. “In each serosurvey, a subset of the population [about 30,000 of India’s 1.4 billion people] is examined for Covid-19 antibodies,” it said. “Once researchers have figured out the share of those people whose blood is found to contain antibodies, they extrapolate that data point, called the seroprevalence, to arrive at an estimate for the whole population.”

The newspaper said that the seroprevalence analysis from the sero survey conducted in January, before the second wave, showed that there were around 26 infections for each reported case. The analysis in this scenario also assumed an infection fatality rate, which is the share of all those infected who have died, at 0.3%.

On the basis of this, but with a reduced estimate from 26 infections per case, the report said that the estimated number of deaths were five times than India’s official figure. In this scenario, the infection tally was 53.9 crore and the toll 16 lakh.

In its worst case scenario, the report used a higher estimate to account for the second wave. It also assumes the infection fatality rate at 0.6% to take into account the fact that many died because of the lack of oxygen, beds and other essential medical supplies. Using this, the analysis reported the infection tally to be 70.07 crore and the toll at 42 lakh.