India asks Twitter to block posts on ‘Covid tsunami’ as deaths go undercounted

·2-min read

Indian authorities have asked Twitter to take down several posts critical of the government’s handling of a surge in the Covid-19 epidemic amid reports several states were hiding the real number of virus deaths. India on Sunday set new world high in daily infections for a fourth consecutive day, with 349,691 fresh cases.

Over 20 posts on Twitter have been restricted following a government order on 23 April. They are no longer visible in India but can be accessed by users in other countries.

Among the tweet taken down was a comment by Moloy Ghatak, a government minister of West Bengal state.

“India will never forgive PM Narendra Modi for underplaying the corona situation in the country and letting so many people die due to mismanagement,” it said.

Tweets of an MP and two film-makers were also among those blocked for India's 18 million Twitter users.

The government offensive came on the back of allegations that some states were undercounting Covid deaths.

‘Massacre of data’

“It’s a complete massacre of data,” said Bhramar Mukherjee, a data scientist at the University of Michigan. “From all the modelling we’ve done, we believe the true number of deaths is two to five times what is being reported,” the Indian-American scientist was quoted as saying.

Newspapers reported a mismatch in numbers in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state.

“I have never seen such a terrible sight in my life,” a municipal worker said from state capital Lucknow where bodies wrapped in tell-tale sheets were stacked at the Bhaisa Kund cemetery.

Gujarat, Modi’s home-state, faced similar complaints after it claimed 78 virus deaths on 17 April. But newspapers reported 689 Covid cremations in seven cities the same day.

Similar complaints have also surfaced in Madhya Pradesh state. The three states are ruled by Modi’s BJP party.

Experts also said gaps in other critical data were also coming in the way of saving lives. “We also do not have hospitalisation numbers, that is one thing missing in Indian data,” said Dileep Mavalankar, director of the Indian Institute of Public Health, a private university.

“We only show positive Covid-19 cases and deaths and not how many hospitalisations,” Mavalankar said amid shambolic scenes at hospitals.

Delhi claims transparency

Covid casualties also spiralled in Delhi after single-digit deaths for most of March. On Saturday, it reported 357 deaths, taking the local toll to 13,898 so far.

“But we are keeping our data transparent,” a city public health official said as Delhi extended a lockdown until 3 May.

The national case tally touched 16.9 million and 2,767 overnight deaths took the toll to 192,311 on Sunday.