World The Indian newsroom counting the uncounted
India launches effort to inoculate all adults against COVID
NEW DELHI (AP) — In hopes of taming a monstrous spike in COVID-19 infections, India opened vaccinations to all adults Saturday, launching a huge inoculation effort that was sure to tax the limits of the federal government, the country's vaccine factories and the patience of its 1.4 billion people. The world's largest maker of vaccines was still short of critical supplies — the result of lagging manufacturing and raw material shortages that delayed the rollout in several states. And even in places where the shots were in stock, the country’s wide economic disparities made access to the vaccine inconsistent.
On 1 April, the wife and daughter of an editor of a leading newspaper in India's western state of Gujarat went to a state-run hospital to get the daughter a Covid-19 test.
Waiting in the queue, they noticed two body bags on gurneys. Workers at the hospital in the capital, Gandhinagar, said the patients had died of Covid-19.
The mother and daughter returned home and told Rajesh Pathak, who edits a local edition of Sandesh, what they that had seen.
Mr Pathak called his reporters that evening and decided to investigate further. "After all, the government press statements were showing no Covid-19 deaths for Gandhinagar yet," he said. Only nine deaths from Covid-19 were officially recorded in Gujarat that day.
Devastating virus surge spreads impact into India's politics
NEW DELHI (AP) — India recorded 368,147 new coronavirus cases on Monday, including 3,417 deaths, as a catastrophic surge ripples through the country. The latest numbers came after leaders of 13 opposition parties penned a letter to urge the government to launch a free vaccination drive as well as ensure uninterrupted flow of oxygen to all hospitals. Several hospital authorities over the weekend sought court intervention over oxygen supplies in New Delhi, where a lockdown has been extended by a week to contain the wave of infections.
Next day onwards a team of reporters began calling up hospitals treating Covid-19 patients in seven cities - Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot, Vadodara, Gandhinagar, Jamnagar and Bhavnagar - and kept a tab on deaths. Since then, Sandesh, a 98-year-old Gujarati language newspaper, has published a daily count of the dead, which is usually several times more than the official figure. "We have our sources in hospitals, and the government has not denied any of our reports. But we still needed first-hand confirmation," Mr Pathak says.
So the newspaper decided to do some old-fashioned shoe-leather journalism. On the evening of 11 April, two reporters and a photographer staked out the mortuary of the 1,200-bed state-run Covid-19 hospital in Ahmedabad. Over 17 hours, they counted 69 body bags coming out of a single exit before they were loaded into waiting ambulances. Next day, Gujarat officially counted 55 deaths, including 20 from Ahmedabad.
'Horrible' weeks ahead as India's virus catastrophe worsens
NEW DELHI (AP) — COVID-19 infections and deaths are mounting with alarming speed in India with no end in sight to the crisis and a top expert warning that the coming weeks in the country of nearly 1.4 billion people will be “horrible.” India's official count of coronavirus cases surpassed 20 million Tuesday, nearly doubling in the past three months, while deaths officially have passed 220,000. Staggering as those numbers are, the true figures are believed to be far higher, the undercount an apparent reflection of the troubles in the health care system.
On the night of 16 April, the journalists drove 150km (93 miles) around Ahmedabad and visited 21 cremation grounds. There they counted body bags and pyres, examined registers, spoke to cremation workers, looked at "slips" which assigned the cause of death, and took photographs and recorded videos. They found that most of the deaths were attributed to "illness", although the bodies were being handled under rigorous protocols. At the end of the night the team had counted more than 200 bodies. But the next day, Ahmedabad counted only 25 deaths.
All of April, Sandesh's intrepid reporters have diligently counted the dead in seven cities. On 21 April, they counted 753 deaths, the highest single-day tally since the deadly second wave washed over the western state. On a number of other days, they counted in excess of 500 deaths. On 5 May, the paper counted 83 deaths in Vadodara. The official figure was 13.
Why India's second COVID wave matters everywhere
The country is the first to record over 400,000 new COVID-19 cases within a 24 hour window. This crisis won't remain inside India's borders for long.The epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic has changed regularly over the past 14 months, shifting from Wuhan, China, to northern Italy to New York before ravaging entire countries and continents. The US and South America have been the worst hit in recent months, but in April the epicenter has shifted once more.
The Gujarat government denies under-counting and says it is following federal protocols.
But reportage by other newspapers has stood up the alleged under-counting. The English languagenewspaper, for example, reported it had information that 689 bodies were cremated or buried in the seven cities following Covid-19 protocols on 16 April, when the official death toll for the entire state was 94. Some experts reckoned that last month alone Gujarat might have under-counted Covid-19 deaths by a staggering factor of 10.
With the pandemic forcing people to stay away from the rituals of grief, newspapers were overflowing with obituaries.
And some of the obituaries appeared to point to the under-counting that was taking place:
The number of funerals at a cremation ground in Bharuch district on Saturday also did not tally with the official death statistic, according to this report in Gujarat Samachar, another leading local newspaper:
On the ground and afar, diaspora boosts India's virus fight
India's large diaspora — long a boon to India's economy — is tapping its wealth, political clout and expertise to help its home country combat the catastrophic coronavirus surge that has left people to die outside overwhelmed hospitals. Around the world, people of Indian descent are donating money, personally delivering desperately needed oxygen equipment and setting up telehealth consultations and information sessions in hopes of beating back the outbreak.Two humanitarian groups in the U.S. led by people of Indian background raised more than $25 million in recent days to help the teetering health care system.
Gujarat has so farregistered more than 650,000 Covid-19 infections and over 8,300 deaths. Under-counting of deaths have been reported from several Indian cities badly hit by the pandemic. But the scale of Gujarat's under-counting appears to be massive, and has even provoked the state's high court to admonish the state government, run by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling BJP. "The state had nothing to gain by hiding the real picture and hence suppression and concealment of accurate data would generate more serious problems including fear, loss of trust, panic among the public at large," the in April.
Many believe that most Covid-19 deaths are being attributed to the patient's underlying conditions or co-morbidities. A senior bureaucrat, who preferred to remain unnamed, told me only patients testing positive for the virus and dying of "viral pneumonia" were being counted as Covid-19 deaths. Chief minister Vijay Rupani says "everyand recorded by a death audit committee".
To be sure, counting bodies at mortuaries or cremation grounds and tallying them with official figures for the day can be imprecise as official statistics come with a time lag, according to Prabhat Jha of the University of Toronto, who led India's ambitious. Countries such as UK have reduced the official death toll from coronavirus after a review of how deaths are counted. Covid-19 deaths have been under-reported by as much as 30 to 40% worldwide, have shown.
Personal ties: Harris' family in India grapples with COVID
WASHINGTON (AP) — G. Balachandran turned 80 this spring — a milestone of a birthday in India, where he lives. If not for the coronavirus pandemic, he would have been surrounded by family members who gathered to celebrate with him. But with the virus ravaging his homeland, Balachandran had to settle for congratulatory phone calls. Including one from his rather famous niece: Vice President Kamala Harris. “Unfortunately, because of the COVID, I cannot have such an elaborate function,” the retired academic said in a Zoom interview Thursday from his home in New Delhi.Harris' uncle says he spoke with the vice president and her husband, Doug Emhoff, for quite a while.
"Reporting and recording systems are swamped during a pandemic, so officials often take time to update [numbers]. But update they must, and record all the deaths. Counting body bags at hospitals and cremation grounds is a good way to put pressure on authorities to come clean," Dr Jha says.
For the journalists, it has been a harrowing experience.
Hitesh Rathod, a photographer at Sandesh, recounted the harrowing experience of counting the dead. "People were getting admitted and coming out as body bags," he said. He found six-hour-long queues of bodies at crematoria, which he says reminded him of the "long queues of people outside banks after demonetisation," Mr Modi's controversial 2016 ban on high denomination currency.
"Five years later, I found similar queues outside hospitals, mortuaries and cremation grounds. This time there were queues of the people struggling to stay alive and queues of the dead," he said.
Ronak Shah, one of Sandesh's reporters, says he was shaken up by the wails of three young children piercing the still night when the hospital's PA system announced the death of their father. "The children were saying they had come to the hospital to pick up their father and go home. They returned with his corpse seven hours later," Mr Shah says.
Dipak Mashla, who led the team to the cremation grounds, says he returned home "scared and shaken". "I saw parents come with body bags of their dead children, pay money to the funeral worker and tell them, 'Please take my child and burn him'. They were too scared to even touch the corpse."
India's surge hits southern states, prompts more lockdowns
BENGALURU, India (AP) — Two southern states in India became the latest to declare lockdowns, as coronavirus cases surge at breakneck speed across the country and pressure mounts on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government to implement a nationwide shutdown. At over 300,000, Karnataka's capital of Bengaluru has the highest active caseload of any Indian city. But experts warn the worst is still ahead as India's third largest city buckles under oxygen shortages, overrun hospitals and crowded crematoriums. In Tamil Nadu state, the lockdown followed a daily record of more than 26,000 cases on Friday.
Imtiyaz Ujjainwala, another reporter on the team, believes the scale of under-counting has been considerably more, considering he and his colleagues only counted bodies from one hospital. There were more than 171 private hospitals treating Covid-19 patients in Ahmedabad, he said. "And nobody is counting there."
Read more of our Covid coverage
Indian navy searches for 78 missing from barge sunk by storm .
NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian navy ships and helicopters searched in extreme weather and rough seas Wednesday for 78 people still missing from a barge that sank off Mumbai as a deadly cyclone blew ashore this week. Navy Cdr. Alok Anand said 183 people were rescued within 24 hours by the three ships and helicopters engaged in the operation. A survivor told the New Delhi Television news channel that he jumped into the sea with his life jacket and was later picked up by the navy. © Provided by Associated Press Two men help a motorist to wade through a waterlogged street after heavy rains in Ahmedabad, India, Tuesday, May 18, 2021.