India has reported the world’s highest Covid death toll after its third most populous state added thousands of names to a list of people who succumbed to the virus but were not counted. The grim audit took the national tally to 359,676.
India reported 6,148 Covid-19 deaths, according to a health ministry report published on Thursday.
The United States held the previous record, with 5,444 Covid-19 deaths on 12 February.
On Thursday, India also posted 94,052 new single-day infections which took the national Covid case tally to 29.2 million.
“Bihar (state) reconciled its figures and put the total number of fatalities caused by the disease at 9,429 after verification,” newspapers quoted the ministry as saying.
Bihar state census
The authorities in Bihar said the recount was the result of an audit of fatalities in the eastern Indian state’s all 38 districts.
Four of the districts marked a jump of at least 200 percent in Bihar’s revised death toll.
“We came to know of demands that there could be more Covid-linked deaths than reported,” Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey said in capital Patna, which accounted for the largest number of 2,303 Covid deaths.
“District administrators were then ordered to conduct an audit of those confirmed killed by the virus,” the health minister told reporters. He did not specify when these thousands of deaths occurred in the impoverished state.
Pratyaya Amrit, a senior Bihar government bureaucrat, asserted Covid patients who died in private hospitals or at home may have fallen off the state-run census.
“These deaths had remained unaccounted earlier," Amrit was quoted as saying. “The health department is trying to find out whose fault it was and proper action will be taken after we ascertain the facts.”
The state high court last month ordered the local government to verify Covid-related deaths in Buxar district and report back to the judges.
The judges said there were inconsistencies in official reports.
Recount sparks political sparring
The revision of the death toll by 72.8 percent sparked political sparring in Bihar where opposition groups accused the government of concealing records of those killed by coronavirus.
“Fudging data of people who have died from coronavirus? This is the limit,” said Prem Chandra Mishra, a Bihar lawmaker from the opposition Congress party. “This government seeks opportunities even in a pandemic."
The Rashtriya Janata Dal, which has ruled Bihar for years, said Bihar’s two-party coalition government must step down.
“It is not only the people of Bihar but partners within this alliance who have lost faith in this government, which has destroyed the state,” Dal spokesman Shakti Yadav said after the recount of Bihar’s Covid death toll.
Last month, the New York Times said India's official death toll could be as high as 1.6 million. The government in Delhi rejected the report as “completely baseless and false”.
India reported around seven million infections in May.
The country has so far added more than 159,000 Covid-linked deaths since April this year.