COVID-19 and under-reporting of deaths: India’s epic fatality math mess 

Maharashtra and Bihar raised their fatality figures last week through data reconciliation after audit/validation by around 14,000 and 4,000, respectively.

Published: 15th June 2021 07:22 AM  |   Last Updated: 15th June 2021 09:49 AM   |  A+A-

By Express News Service

While the Centre recently bristled at an international news magazine pegging India’s excess deaths due to the pandemic at 5-7 times the official count, the fact that there is under-reporting cannot be brushed away.

Under mounting pressure for an honest admission on the scale of the pandemic, Maharashtra and Bihar raised their fatality figures last week through data reconciliation after audit/validation by around 14,000 and 4,000, respectively.

But allegations that not all deaths in private hospitals or of patients on their way to hospitals in rural areas were recorded under the Covid category refuse to go away, prompting the Patna High Court to direct the Bihar government to confirm whether its data revision was full and final. 
Data discrepancy, to put it mildly, is visible across the country and under all political dispensations.

Take Hyderabad. There was a 14.2% jump in deaths within the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) limits in 2020-21, as compared to the same period in the previous year. 

A Right to Information query by this newspaper on the death certificates it issued revealed that the corporation handed out 9,235 more certificates between 2020 March and 2021 April (see box). 

Besides, 998 other death certificates are under process. Also, data was available only for 18 erstwhile circles of GHMC, which have now been reorganised into 30 circles within the same area.

Yet, the cumulative count of Covid deaths recorded in the entire Telangana as on June 14 is just 3,496, though there were humungous crowds at the state’s burial and cremation grounds when the second wave was at its peak.

A municipal officer in Hyderabad said an year-on-year increase of 3-4% in death certificates is normal because of continued migration and rising awareness of the need for death certificates. 

However, a 14.2% increase in a year when for three months the city was under lockdown was concerning, he said. “During lockdown there were hardly any road traffic deaths, which is one of the major contributors to daily toll,” he added.

MYSURU: Sa Ra Mahesh, a legislator from Mysuru, disputes the district administration’s Covid-19 death figures. 

While the district administration claims 238 people succumbed to the virus between May 1 and May 29, 2021, he claims he has documents to show that 974 people died during the same period.

A former minister, Mahesh substantiated his argument by producing death reports along with Covid-19 test results, mentioning the cause of death as Covid-19.This paper did a reality check at Tagaduru, a village in Nanjangud taluk of the district.

While the government data available at the community health centre stated that eight persons died of Covid-19 in May, villagers disputed the number before the minister and deputy commissioner, saying that they buried 18 who had died of Covid.

On their part, the doctors at the hospital said they have records of only those who tested positive and died at their health centre, and not that of those who availed of treatment and died elsewhere.

Mysuru had reported 893 deaths in March 2020, which went up to 1,222 during the corresponding month in 2021. Similarly, in April 2020, the district reported a total of 699 deaths, and in April 2021, the number went up by around 61% to 1,129.

Interestingly, Karnataka health department’s State War Room data shows that Mysuru district reported zero death in March and April 2020. The official tally of Covid-19 deaths in March and April 2021 is 24, and 157, respectively.

DEHRADUN: In Uttarakhand, the Dehrdaun Municipal Corporation presents a peculiar picture. It recorded 26.47% increase in death certificates in 2020-21 when compared to the same period the previous year.

In all, 1,274 death certificates were issued in April 2021 as compared to 1,035 in April 2020. In April 2020, the official count of Covid death in Uttarakhand was zero while in April 2021, as many as 907 Covid death were recorded.

In other words, over 1,000 people died due to causes other than Covid last year, but this year the number of such deaths was just about 360.

JAIPUR: In Rajasthan’s capital, the numbers of death certificates issued by the Jaipur Municipal Corporation in April and May 2020 were 858 and 1,650, respectively.

The corresponding figures ballooned to 3,309 and 3,387 in April and May 2021, a jump by 2,451 and 1,697.

However, the official count of Covid fatalities in April and May 2020 were 32 and 59, while for the same months a year later, the figures stood at 241 and 1,121. There is little by way of explanation yet for the skew.

RAIPUR: Another inexplicable data count can be seen in Chhattisgarh’s capital Raipur. While records show that 2,194 people died April-May this year, death certificates issued by the Raipur Municipal Corporation (RMC) stood at 5,434 for the same period. RMC registrar Vijay Pandey has an strange explanation. 

“The deaths recorded in April or May 2021 are not actually of those months. Many of them are late additions - from one to a few months old - due to delayed registration. During lockdown, government offices were not functional. It was only after some relaxation in the later part of May that the process of death registration picked up,” he said.

(Reporting by Donita Jose @ Hyderabad; K Shiva Kumar @ Mysuru; Rajesh Kumar Thakur @ Patna; Vineet Upadhyay @ Dehradun; Rajesh Asnani @ Jaipur; Ejaz Kaiser @ Raipur)


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