Centre catches Kerala snoozing on Covid data

As per updated national-level data on Monday, Kerala contributed 43% of new cases and 99.5% of Covid deaths in the country
Centre catches Kerala snoozing on Covid data

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The threat of another Covid wave coming is far from over as it is evident from the increase in cases reported in different parts of the country and worldwide. Since the beginning of the pandemic, emphasis has been given to Covid data – the number of people getting infected daily, test positivity rate and number of active patients, etc – to understand the trajectory of the disease and make possible intervention.

However, the state’s health department has erred in providing data during the holidays to the Union health ministry. And when it did after an extended weekend on Monday, the accumulation of new cases and active patients skewed the national average. As a result, India has reported 90% increase in new cases and 165 % increase in positive cases in a single day.

The Union health ministry is not pleased with the country making a sudden spike in pandemic due to the delay in updating data. Joint secretary of the ministry Lav Agarwal on Monday sent a letter to the principal secretary of the state health department, reminding him of the need to update the data on a daily basis.

“There is a need for continued intensive monitoring at state and district levels to detect emerging challenges and undertake suitable steps for preparedness and management of Covid. We need to continue maintaining an effective watch and take preemptive action to contain any imminent surge,” the letter said.

The reminder is considered a major embarrassment to the state as the omission is not consistent with the policy of a leading state in public health. Besides, the state, with its better reporting standards, has been the leading contributor of Covid cases in the country. Kerala contributed 43% of the new cases and 99.5% of Covid deaths in the country, when the national-level data was updated on Monday.

The state was already contributing 30% of the total active patients in the country when it decided to stop publicising the Covid data on April 11. The department cited a consistent drop in the number of people testing positive everyday for discontinuing the data disclosure. But it has helped in evading public scrutiny of the data, something the health experts have been warning.

“Kerala, which is a leading state in public health, should be the last state to discontinue the publishing of data. We should be setting examples. Interestingly, no other state in the country has stopped reporting,” said Rijo M John, a health economist, who closely monitors the trajectory of the pandemic across the country.

There has been an uptick in Covid cases in Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. Regular data updating and monitoring of trends is crucial from a public health view point. “Data is the most crucial aspect for making any change in strategy and to make any proactive intervention. It is important that people at all levels have the information. We need to know the trend here of a surge of Covid in Delhi. A district medical officer should know the trend in neighbouring districts. Even a doctor at a private clinic can diagnose a fever better and avoid unnecessary tests, if she or he knows the test positivity in the region. If the TPR is high, a local authority can take faster containment measures if the data is readily available,” said Dr N M Arun, a public health activist who championed for better transparency in the reporting of Covid deaths.

He pointed out that the decision to stop updating the Covid dashboard under the health department has denied people monitoring the Covid deaths. “Though there are Covid surges reported in different parts of the country, the rate of hospitalisation and number of deaths are the factors to be monitored for further Covid containment strategies,” Dr Arun added.

What’s state hiding?
■ Kerala did not update the Union health department on Covid data for five days from April 13a■ State denied Covid data to the public citing the low number of Covid cases
■ Covid dashboard under state health department stopped updating data since April 5

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The New Indian Express