Mamata and BJP lock horns over COVID-19 data

Published : April 06, 2020 21:23 IST

West Bengal Health Department staff check details of foreign tourists at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Siliguri in March following the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: DIPTENDU DUTTA/AFP

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have locked horns over the continuing confusion over data relating to the spread of coronavirus in the State, particularly over the number of deaths. While the BJP’s national IT cell has accused the State government of fudging figures relating to the spread of the coronavirus, Mamata, without naming the BJP, has accused the saffron party of spreading fake news to “malign” the Health Department of the State.

“This is not the time to joke or indulge in politics. It has come to our notice that the IT cell of a certain political party is spreading fake news with regard to the official bulletin of the Health Department,” Mamata said on April 6, while addressing a press conference at the State Secretariat.

Earlier in the day, Amit Malviya, who is in charge of the BJP’s national IT cell, had posted on social media:

“What is Mamata Banerjee hiding?

No medical bulletin from the Bengal government on 2nd, 3rd and 5th Apr. Curiously number of Covid related deaths missing in the bulletin released on 4th.”

The confusion regarding the data arose when the West Bengal government maintained that three people had lost their lives in the COVID-19 outbreak in the State even after the State government-appointed taskforce of doctors announced that the number of deaths (as of April 2) was seven. According to Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha, four of the deceased had been admitted with co-morbidities. “Their deaths are yet to be established as COVID deaths,” Sinha had said.

The BJP is not the only party to have attacked Mamata over the confusion of COVID-19 data. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has expressed concern over the apparent lack of transparency of the State government while dealing with the epidemic. “If they are trying to confuse people and suppress facts, then it will be disastrous. Suppression of data will inevitably lead to greater spread of the virus,” CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and State secretary of the party, Surjya Kanta Mishra, had earlier told Frontline.

On April 5, the State government set up a committee to “ascertain the cause of death of a person who has tested positive for COVID-19”. The five-member committee that would conduct “audits of suspected deaths due to COVID-19”, will examine the BHT, treatment history, laboratory investigation reports, death certificates or any other documents as may be deemed necessary for ascertaining the cause of death of a patient who had tested positive for COVID-19. In its official notice, the State government also directed all health facilities to submit to the committee, in cases of suspected COVID-19 deaths, all the other necessary documents relating to the case.

The State government in its briefings has also focused on the “active” COVID-19 cases in the State rather than the total number of people who have been infected (including those who have recovered and those who have died.) According to the website of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare,the total number of confirmed cases in West Bengal stood at 80 (as of the afternoon of April 6). Mamata during her press conference said the total number of “active” cases in the State was 61. “Of these 61 cases, 55 are from seven families alone…. In a State with such high density of population, where lakhs of people come from abroad, only in seven areas the outbreak has taken place,” said Mamata. According to her, 99 per cent of the cases in the State have been linked directly or indirectly to foreign travel.”