Confusion over COVID-19 numbers put out by task force and government in West Bengal

Published : April 03, 2020 13:14 IST

Customers at a pharmacy wait at the marked spots to keep physical distance, in Siliguri on March 26. Photo: DIPTENDU DUTTA/AFP

The opposition parties in West Bengal have attacked the State government for the confusion over COVID-19 data. Both the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Bharatiya Janata Party have accused State government of obfuscating matters to conceal data.

The confusion arose when, on April 2, hours after the COVID-19 taskforce announced that the number of coronavirus deaths (as of April 2) was seven, the State government contradicted the figure, maintaining that the number was still three. Addressing a press conference, the State Chief Secretary, Rajiva Sinha, said the cause of four of the deaths was yet to be ascertained as the deceased were admitted with conditions of co-morbidity.

The taskforce, comprising doctors, had announced, “The number of persons who had tested positive for COVID 19 in the last 24 hours is 16, and the total number stands at 53. The number of confirmed COVID 19 cases that have been cured stands at three. Lastly, the number of persons who expired in the last 24 hours is four, and the total, seven.”

A few hours after that, Rajiva Sinha clarified, “Of these 53 cases that were mentioned, three have already recovered and gone home. So the total number stands at 50. Of these 50, nine people have tested negative in their second test. If we deduct them, then the total number stands at 41.Total corona cases are 53. But three have returned home. Of the 50, nine are negative. Total is then 41. Of these 41, some were admitted with co-morbidity. Either they had heart problems or kidney problems and such conditions. These people died; and three died of COVID-19. So, it is 41 minus three – those who have died due to COVID-19, and minus four – those whose deaths are yet to be established as COVID deaths. But their names are also in the list. So, as of 6 pm, 2nd April 2020, the total number of existing cases here are 34.”

A similar confusion occurred on April 1. After health officials confirmed that three more deaths had taken place, taking the total figure to six, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee stated that the last three people who died were suffering from other ailments. In its daily bulletin, the State Health Department kept the number at three, but added: “Two male persons both aged 57 years and one male person aged 62 years all having Severe Acute Respiratory Illness expired. One of them had Chronic Renal Failure, another had Respiratory Failure and the third one had hypertension and other co-morbid conditions. They had all reportedly tested positive, which is subject to confirmation.”

The confusion has prompted strong reactions from the opposition parties, who have alleged that the State government is trying to conceal data by obfuscating matters. “They are trying to say that the cause of death is pneumonia and renal failure, etc. These conditions are brought about by coronavirus. If they died of renal failure and pneumonia and tested positive for COVID-19, then they have died of coronavirus. If they are trying to confuse people in this manner to suppress facts, then it will be disastrous,” Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and State secretary of the party, Surjya Kanta Mishra told Frontline. Mishra, himself a medical doctor, and for long the State Health Minister during the CPI(M) rule in Bengal, fears that the coronavirus in Bengal may have already spread at the community level.

State BJP president and Lok Sabha MP Dilip Ghosh accused the State government of trying to conceal facts. “I do not understand why there is this attempt to conceal [facts]…. In this way we will not be able to stop the spread of coronavirus,” he said while talking to the media.

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