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Indian health workers wearing personal protective equipment are seen closing the body of a Covid-19 victim, who died at home during self-isolation. Photo: Agung Fatma Putra/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The total number of excess deaths in India during the pandemic is likely more than than 3 million and could be as high as 4.9 million, according to a study released Tuesday.

Why it matters: The number is almost 10 times the country's official death toll, making it "arguably India’s worst human tragedy," said the research team, who includes a former chief economic adviser to the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

By the numbers: India has reported 31,174,322 virus cases and 414,482 confirmed deaths, data from Johns Hopkins University shows.

  • But the the study estimated there were between 3.4 and 4.9 excess deaths in India from January 2020 through June 2021.
  • The study's authors did not attribute all excess deaths to the coronavirus, however, saying the research focused on "'all-cause mortality, and estimate excess mortality relative to a pre-pandemic baseline, adjusting for seasonality."

What they're saying: "True deaths are likely to be in the several millions not hundreds of thousands, making this arguably India’s worst human tragedy since partition and independence," the researchers wrote.

  • "Estimating COVID-deaths with statistical confidence may prove elusive. But all estimates suggest that the death toll from the pandemic is likely to be an order of magnitude greater than the official count of 400,000; they also suggest that the first wave was more lethal than is believed," they added.
  • The first wave may have been more lethal because "it was spread out in time and space, unlike the sudden and concentrated surge of the second wave, mortality in the first wave appeared moderate," the researchers also said.

The big picture: India has struggled to contain the coronavirus, seeing a surge of new infections in April and May, driven mostly by the more transmissible Delta variant.

  • The high case load has overwhelmed an already stretched health system.

Go deeper

Oct 27, 2021 - Health

COVID cases, deaths at meat plants were far higher than previously thought

Tyson Foods in Portland, Maine, in 2020. Photo: Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Cases and deaths from COVID-19 among workers at the five largest U.S. meatpacking companies were nearly three times higher than previously thought, according to a memo from the House panel probing the response to the pandemic.

Driving the news: At least 59,000 workers contracted COVID-19 and 269 workers died at Tyson Foods, JBS USA, Cargill, National Beef and Smithfield Foods — which together make up more than 80% of the beef market and 60% of the pork market in the U.S. — according to counts through January of this year.

Oct 28, 2021 - Health

Study: Common antidepressant guards against COVID hospitalization

A COVID-19 intensive care unit in Rio de Janeiro in May. Photo: Fabio Teixeira/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The readily available antidepressant fluvoxamine significantly reduced COVID-related hospitalizations, according to a large study published Wednesday.

Why it matters: The clinical trial suggests that a cheap, readily available drug could dramatically reduce serious illness and death when prescribed early.

Updated Oct 28, 2021 - Health

NYC firefighters union urges members to defy mayor's vaccine mandate

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

The president of New York City's firefighters' union told reporters Wednesday that he's advised unvaccinated members to ignore Mayor Bill de Blasio's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city workers, per Reuters.

Why it matters: Under De Blasio's order that's due to take effect Friday, unvaccinated city employees would be placed on unpaid leave. But Uniformed Firefighters Association head Andrew Ansbro said he told members that "if they choose to remain unvaccinated, they must still report for duty," according to Reuters.