Huge number of COVID deaths not reported in Maharashtra

Published : June 17, 2020 00:00 IST

The entry point of Madh market in Mumbai being closed on June 11 owing to rising COVID-19 cases. Photo: Aadesh Choudhari

A data reconciliation exercise conducted by the Maharashtra government showed that 2,190 COVID deaths were not been reported overall in the State from March till date. Of these, 862 deaths were in Mumbai and 1,328 in the rest ofthe State. Initial reports said that the total number of unreported cases from all over the State was 451.

The State Health Department issued a circular on June 8 to all districts, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), medical centres and laboratories asking for details of any undeclared deaths to be sent in. Confirmation of these came in by June 16. The BMC and the State said the discrepancy was the result of a time lag in recording and reporting the details.

According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) guidelines, anyone who dies of the coronavirus has to be registered as a COVID death unless the patient had a terminal illness or the death was due to unnatural causes such as suicide, poisoning or accident.

The State maintains records of all patients. The usual process is quite long and involves much paperwork before a death is certified as a COVID death.

All districts and laboratories have to upload case details onto a central online portal called CV Analytics. It was found that data entered by labs differed from that entered by district officials.

The discrepancy in numbers was noticed during an exercise in which the state government was correlating its figures with those of the ICMR. The process, done over a number of days, considered each case, removed any duplication of cases and revised details of those who had died, recovered and were still affected.

After the June 8 circular, files started arriving at BMC’s Mumbai headquarters from June 12. Some 862 new cases were sent in. The BMC said all allegations of suppressing data were untrue. It added this was just a matter of a time lag in declaring cases.

Citing overworked and understaffed facilities, the BMC said it was committed to transparency in declaring all COVID deaths.

District heads also came under fire for “suppressing” deaths but pleaded the same excuse as the BMC. Apart from the city’s unreported 862 deaths, the following numbers were unreported from other districts: Thane 146, Pune 85, Solapur 51, Jalgaon 34, Aurangabad 33, Nasik 28, Akola 14, Raigad 14, Dhule 12, Palghar 11 and more from 14 other districts.

On June 15, former Chief Minister and leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly, Devendra Fadnavis, wrote a letter to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray alleging an even higher number of unreported deaths than the initial suspected 451 and called the underreporting a “criminal offence”.

He wrote, “It has been brought to our notice that more than 950 COVID-19 deaths had been covered up. It is a clear attempt to hide facts. Instead of COVID-19, these are being certified as deaths caused by some other ailment…Every COVID-19 death comes up before the BMC’s death committee audit. Only after this committee gives its formal approval is a COVID-19 death announced…. As per our information, there have been 451 deaths due to COVID-19 but the committee referred to them as non-COVIDcases.”

As of June 17, Maharashtra had 1,13,445 positive cases, 5,537 deaths and 57,851 recoveries. The State has tested 6,84,000 people and quarantined 27,242.

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