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Relatives wearing protective suits as a precaution reduced the body of a Kovid-19 victim for burial in a cemetery in New Delhi, India, in September. 3. Manish Rajput / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

For months, India has been struggling to control the coronovirus epidemic with limited success.

According to Johns Hopkins University, the country of 1.3 billion people has the highest number of cases globally (more than 4.4 million), and the third highest number of deaths (over 75,000).

But India’s reported mortality rate – counting the number of deaths per 100 confirmed cases – is surprisingly low compared to other countries with high infection rates.

India’s Kovid-19 death rate is 1.7%. For reference, the same rate is around 3% in the US, 11.7% in the UK, and 12.6% in Italy, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The Indian government claims that India’s low mortality rate is a sign of its success in dealing with the crisis, and has used this figure to support its decision to lift some coronavirus restrictions.

But some scientists in India Warned that the numbers are incomplete and misleading – and relying on them to reopen the country could make matters worse.

So what’s behind the numbers?

While the number of coronovirus cases in India is increasing, the death rate is falling.

Some experts warn that the data is full of gaps: India has a weak, low public health infrastructure, and over the years it has failed to properly record the deaths of its own citizens. When India is not experiencing an epidemic, 86% of deaths nationwide are still registered in government systems.

India is not counting all Kovid deaths: There is also the issue of reducing Kovid’s deaths due to insufficient testing and poor medical coding. India has advanced its testing, but it still has one of the lowest per capita test rates in the world. Even if a Kovid-19 patient tested positive before dying, they cannot be counted as a Kovid-19 death if they had other asymptomatic conditions such as diabetes or cancer.

An increase in testing creates a confusing mortality rate: With more trials, authorities are detecting more cases. But mortality is measured against the number of confirmed cases overall – so when cases increase, the rate will go down even if the number of deaths remains the same.

Daily deaths are actually increasing: Even if the death rate is declining, it does not mean that the number of deaths is falling. Deaths have risen from about 750 a day in early August to more than 1,000 this week.

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