Despite a nudge from the top leadership, the Congress government in Punjab seems to have made no efforts to double-check if the Covid fatality figures for the state needed to be revised or not.
On May 28, Former Indian National Congress president and Wayanad MP, Rahul Gandhi, had alleged that the Union government was hiding the real death toll due to Covid-19 in the country. In a video statement, Gandhi had then said, “I have talked to all the Congress chief ministers personally and I have told them that lying about Covid-19 deaths will be a loss. true, people will be disturbed after knowing the real death rate. But we will have to accept the reality. If we don’t accept this reality, then we will not be able to stop this virus. I have asked all Congress chief ministers to table the truth. I am saying it with a guarantee that the Union government’s figures on Covid-19 deaths are a lie.”
In response, Captain Amarinder Singh-led Punjab government, however, has so far made no efforts to recount the number of Covid-related in the state.
So far Punjab, officially, has declared around 15,500 deaths, at a case fatality rate of 2.6 per cent — that is double the national average of 1.3 per cent.
“Our methods of maintaining Covid data were transparent from Day One. Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh had given us very clear instructions ever since the outbreak that correct Covid-19 data had to be maintained. We collected real-time data and it was one of the reasons why we could control the virus. Data collected by us is trustworthy,” said Amardeep Singh Cheema, of the Punjab Health System Corporation (PHSC), who is also a Congress leader.
He added, “Punjab never hid data regarding its Covid deaths. This is basically why the CFR is higher in Punjab. A higher number of co-morbitities was also another big reason for the Covid death rate to have spiked in Punjab. Our figures true and scientific.”
Despite the claims of correct data of Covid-19 deaths being maintained, The Indian Express had on May 11 reported that the health department had officially recorded only five fatalities due to the virus in village Mari Mega of district Tarn Taran in the month of April 2021.
Subedar Kulwant Singh, an ex-serviceman, who was put in charge of the governance of the village by the state government in 2017, however, had raised the alarm, claiming the Covid fatality figures for Mari Mega was more than three times the official figure for April, prompting the administration to order an investigation. The probe, ordered by the Deputy Commissioner, had then found that at least 11 people had died due to Covid-19 in the month of April, as against the official count of five deaths.
Similarly, The Indian Express had also highlighted that the death rate had alarmingly increased in Amritsar city during the month of April. According to the health department, around 283 Covid-19 deaths were reported from district Amritsar in April.
The two cremation grounds in Amritsar city alone, The Indian Express had however found, had a different story to tell. Those in-charge of Shivpuri cremation ground near Durgiana Temple and cremation ground Shahidan near Gurudwara Baba Deep Singh in the city had then told The Indian Express that there have been a total of more than 1,000 cremations in April, including both Covid and non-Covid, with officials at Shivpuri questioning how non-Covid deaths could have doubled suddenly. These two cremation grounds are used for cremation of bodies of the city population, while every village in the district has its own cremation ground.
The reasons for underreporting of deaths are many, the primary of which included many villagers not reporting their symptoms to the health department teams fearing the stigma attached. Many such villagers later died at their homes and were never classified as Covid deaths.
Sources said that many cremation grounds, especially those in the rural areas of the state, had also witnessed an increase in the number of bodies that relatives claimed were not of Covid-19 patients.
“The state government should look into data pertaining to an increase in non-Covid deaths also. It is true that the state government didn’t hide the actual number of Covid-19 deaths. However, there were also a considerable number of unofficial deaths which were never reported to the health department and were classified as non-Covid. These deaths should be probed if we are to get the exact toll,” said an official of the state health department.
Prodded, the state government released a press note claiming that most governments across the globe have been pilloried for their stark Covid data inconsistencies. Punjab, on the other hand, it claimed, has set high standards in pandemic data reliability and efficiency.
“Right from the time Covid struck, Punjab’s effective response against the deadly virus onslaught has been nurtured on data, scrupulously collected and maintained by the state health authorities. It is because of the pinpointed data and its analysis that the state has been able to weather the tough situation much better than many other states during both the waves,” the press note said