India yesterday recorded a global record of more than 6,000 coronavirus deaths in 24 hours after one state dramatically revised upwards its data, stoking suspicions that the country's toll is much higher than reported.
According to health ministry figures, 6,148 people died in the previous 24 hours, taking total fatalities to almost 360,000, the world's third highest.
The previous world record according to an AFP tally was 5,527 in the United States on February 12, although this was also due to an upwards revision of earlier deaths.
On Wednesday the eastern state of Bihar hiked its death toll by around 4,000 to almost 9,500 after reviewing death records, officials said.
Bihar's High Court in Patna demanded an audit of the figures after allegations that the local government was hiding the scale of infections and deaths.
With record-keeping poor even in normal times, many experts believe India's death toll is several times higher than the official number, meaning it could be over a million -- which would make it the world's highest.
As crematoriums struggled to handle the wave of deaths over the past two months, many families placed bodies in the holy Ganges river or buried them in shallow graves on its sandbanks.
Those people would likely not have been registered as Covid victims.
"Under-reporting is a widespread problem, not necessarily deliberate, often because of inadequacies," Rajib Dasgupta, head of the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, told Reuters.
"In the rural context, whatever states may say or claim, testing is not simple, easy or accessible," Dasgupta said.
Overall, India's cases and deaths have fallen steadily in the past weeks after a surge from mid-March.
The New York Times estimated deaths based on death counts over time and infection fatality rates and put India's toll at 600,000 to 1.6 million.
The government dismissed those estimates as exaggerated. But the main opposition Congress party said that other states must follow Bihar's example and conduct a review of deaths over the past two months.
Sri Lanka began injecting pregnant women with a Chinese coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday and Nepal resumed inoculations with a China-made jab as India's neighbours turn to Beijing and Moscow for help with supplies.
Nepal halted inoculations at the end of May after its stock of AstraZeneca shots and Chinese Sinopharm jabs ran short.
The programme resumed on Tuesday after a million more Sinopharm doses arrived from China, the only country that has so far responded to its appeals for help.
India had previously supplied Nepal with the AstraZeneca vaccine from its manufacturer Serum Institute but in March froze vaccine exports as infections soared domestically.
"Nepal has sent requests to many countries including both neighbours, US, Russia and other countries but no additional vaccine has arrived yet," health ministry official Samir Kumar Adhikari told AFP.
Barely two percent of the country's people are fully vaccinated. Around 1.3 million people received one AstraZeneca dose in March but have since been unable to get a second.
Sri Lanka meanwhile has been aggressively rolling out China's Sinopharm jab after receiving two million doses in the past week. On Wednesday the programme was opened to pregnant women.
The island, in the middle of a ferocious third wave of infections, announced last month it was also buying 13 million Sputnik V vaccines from Russia.
Elsewhere in the region, Bangladesh has been giving only second doses of the AstraZeneca shot since late April as supplies dwindle.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned yesterday that vaccination rates in Europe were still far off what was needed to stop a virus resurgence and called on countries to maintain protective measures.
According to the organisation, 30 percent of people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and 17 percent have been fully vaccinated in the WHO's European Region -- which spans 53 countries and territories and includes several in Central Asia.
"Although we have come far, we have not come far enough," Hans Kluge, the WHO's regional director for Europe, told a press conference.