61% of citizens now have 1 or more individuals in their social network who died of COVID-19
- ● 44% citizens know individuals who might have died due to COVID-19 but were not declared as COVID-19 deaths
- ● According to people, many deaths in their social network are being caused or accelerated by COVID-19 but not declared as COVID-19 deaths
December 7, 2020, New Delhi: COVID-19, which had its first case in India on January 30, 2020, in 10 months is just a few lakh cases short of hitting the 1 crore official case counts, while the recovery rate is at 90 percent. The official death count in the country has crossed the 140,000 mark. Each number in the data speaks for an individual, an identity, a member of the family, a relative, a friend, a neighbour, a colleague. Families have been devastated where death of the only earning member of a joint family with at least 6 members, or in cases where the mother and wife passed away leaving behind 2 adults and 2 minors, have sent shockwaves across the country. Overall, the negative impact of COVID-19 has been like no other pandemics India and the world have faced in the last century.
LocalCircles observed an increase in the citizens’ posts on the platform suggesting that many individuals in their social network died likely by COVID-19, however, it was not declared as COVID-19 death or a death accelerated due to the virus. Citizens from tier 3 and tier 4 towns of India have reported that it is hard to believe in these towns that the COVID-19 outbreak is still there. According to ground reports, people are neither wearing masks nor observing social distancing. It is likely that the number of Covid case counts in the country are highly misleading as people don’t get Covid tests even after showing symptoms. Most citizens are treating COVID-19 as just another illness. Per citizens’ feedback, they become a bit more cautious when someone in their social network passes away due to Covid, but as they get busy with their personal and professional lives, things go back as usual a few weeks later.
The death registration process in India is almost non-existent as many families conduct last rites at a nearby funeral home or burial ground, which makes it extremely difficult to estimate the total number of deaths in 2020 that might have been due to Covid. Based on such ground reports and feedback, LocalCircles decided to conduct a survey to find the aggregate percentage of citizens who know individuals that died of COVID-19 in the last 10 months? Also, they were asked if they know someone who lost their life likely by Covid-19, though it was not declared as Covid-19 death? The survey received close to 16,000 responses from citizens across 208 districts of India.
The first question in the survey asked citizens, “How many in your own social network (family, extended family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, business associates, etc.) have lost their life due to COVID-19 in the last 8 months?” Responses from 9,524 citizens were received. Notably, 61% of the respondents have 1 or more individuals in their social network who died of COVID-19. Further 26% voted, “No one lost their life and thankfully all recovered”.
61% citizens now have one or more individuals in their social network who passed away due to COVID-19
Words fall inadequate to express the emotion and grief of family members who were not able to offer even a proper send-off to the near and dear ones who died of COVID-19. Per the protocols, in most metro cities, hospital authorities immediately take their bodies away from any human reach and they are cremated thereafter. Family members in some places are permitted to watch the funeral or cremation of the deceased from a distance with the necessary safety protocols. India so far has lost over 100 public figures to COVID-19, including Members of Parliament, Members of State Legislative Assemblies, Political Parties Office Bearers, Celebrities, Journalists, and over 1,000 Doctors and Health professionals.
Citizens have reported that most districts only count deaths of patients who tested Covid positive as “confirmed Covid-19 deaths” in the official toll. If patients who have symptoms of COVID-19 due to test timing or have an inconclusive result die, their deaths aren’t included. Some citizens have also reported that deaths due to comorbidities, such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease or AIDS that worsen the effects of COVID-19 are being reported as comorbidity deaths. However, these numbers are taken out from the COVID-19 death reporting. The social implications of how COVID-19 infected individuals were treated especially in the first 9 months has had an adverse impact on people with many resisting to test themselves, and eventually that led to many deaths not being reported as COVID-19 even though family, friends and relatives knew it. Given the fact that the death registry system is also non-existent in most parts of the country, all such deaths are likely missing from the Government COVID-19 death count.
To gauge the extent of such cases, the survey asked citizens, “How many individuals in your own social network lost their life in the last 8 months, which was not declared COVID-19 deaths but it was likely related to COVID or accelerated by COVID?”. Responses from 6,392 citizens were received. Per the result, 44% citizens now have 1 or more individuals in their social network who likely lost their life due to COVID-19 but were not declared as COVID-19 deaths. This assumes a lot of significance if the numbers are extrapolated.
44% citizens now have one or more individuals in their social network who likely lost their life due to COVID-19 but were not declared as COVID-19 death
In fact, India has not been able to implement the mandatory registration of birth and death of an individual as per the Registration of Births and Death Act (RBD Act). Per data from the office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India, citing registration data from CRS for the year 2012, the level of registration at the national level is 84.4% for birth and 69.3% for death. In LocalCircles community discussions, many citizens have demanded that a technology-based death registration system should be developed and implemented across all funeral homes, cremation grounds, hospitals, municipalities and panchayats of the country. According to citizens, such a platform will be useful in various areas of governance as well as health research.
LocalCircles will share the findings of this report with relevant Government stakeholders so actions can be taken to improve reporting of COVID-19 deaths effectively with a technology-based death registration system in place.
16,000+ responses were received from citizens across 208 districts of India. 69% respondents were men while 31% respondents were women. 51% respondents were from tier 1, 24% from tier 2 and 25% were from tier 3, 4 and rural districts. The survey was conducted via LocalCircles platform and all participants are validated citizens who had to be registered with LocalCircles to participate in this survey.