The novel coronavirus is a malevolent silent intruder. We all know at least this much about the latest human coronavirus. Now, it has emerged that it is a silent killer as well. The chronology of this reckoning is interesting.
Recently, US intelligence agencies debated whether China “deliberately” under-reported its number of cases and deaths due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. Reports suggest that US intelligence dispatches, which also doubted the Wuhan wet market theory of the origin of Covid-19, from China reached up to the White House.
At least two heads of state — Donald Trump of the US and Emmanuel Macron of France — have publicly doubted the China’s reported numbers for infections and deaths due to Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
While this debate over numbers was still raging at different levels in the US government, China suddenly revised its figures for death due to Covid-19 last week. In the revised death toll for Wuhan — the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak — China upped the count by 1,290, almost 50 per cent higher than the previous death toll. Now, the revised death toll for Wuhan stood at 3,869 and China’s at 4,632.
This strengthened the narrative that China under-reported coronavirus cases and deaths. But it is not yet certain whether China actually knew about those deaths. And, there is corroborative evidence from other countries too.
China’s revision of death figures happened also in the backdrop of reports saying that hundreds of urns were lying unclaimed outside funeral homes in coronavirus-hit regions of the country. China conducted funerals of Covid-19 positive persons almost immediately after their death, and in the nearest crematorium. Many of these funerals were conducted even without the consent or presence of the family members of the deceased.
Just as China revised its death toll due to Covid-19, the US, Italy, Spain and the UK too admitted that their official figures were a sort of “under-reporting” of novel coronavirus cases and deaths.
New York City last week revised its coronavirus death toll by 3,778 pushing the overall fatality up by over 55 per cent in a single day. American authorities said these deaths were linked to Covid-19 but had previously not been counted under the head of coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier, Italy had reported that the death toll due to novel coronavirus could be as high as double the officially recorded numbers. In Bergamo province in the northern region of Lombardy, which was the epicentre of coronavirus in Italy, the country revised the death toll by 2,060 earlier this month, placing the number of dead at 4,500.
These “fresh” deaths were of those who died at home. Many coronavirus-hit countries have seen a rise in death rates outside the hospital deaths recorded as Covid-19 cases. Most of the people dying at home in these countries are untested for novel coronavirus.
This is a major factor behind authorities in all coronavirus-affected countries revising the death toll upward. For example, the official death toll for Madrid is 3,752 but the local authorities say not less than 7,500 have died due to novel coronavirus in the national capital.
The Office for National Statistics in the UK has said the actual number of those dying due to the novel coronavirus infection in the country could be 15 per cent higher than the official records.
Health experts in these countries say there is no surprise that coronavirus cases and deaths are hugely under-reported. Nowhere in the world are deaths of untested persons at home being counted for novel coronavirus pandemic.
India too is following the same system of counting only those deaths that take place at hospitals and are tested cases of Covid-19.
What actually forced China to revise its coronavirus death toll is not clearly known. But in the New York City, reports highlighted sudden spike in deaths occurring at home.
New York reported an average 35 deaths a day between 2013 and 2017. But this number has jumped to 200 in 2020, authorities told local media. In first week of April, average daily deaths in New York City went up to 245. These deaths are now being attributed to novel coronavirus infection but the ones that went untested at the time.
This has set off a fresh debate with some health experts and researchers speculating that the death toll due to Covid-19 could be double the official figure. A study published in March estimated that over 85 per cent of novel coronavirus infections were undocumented.
More than 1.65 lakh recorded deaths have happened worldwide. India has recorded 543 deaths. These are the deaths that happened in hospitals, mainly in cities. There are no publicly available data about people dying at homes in India, particularly in rural areas of novel coronavirus-hit states.