The Director of the NICED-ICMR, Kolkata, Shanta Dutta, who heads one of the premier central testing laboratories in the eastern region, has questioned the state decision to set up a committee to certify COVID-19 deaths. In an interview to The Indian Express, Dutta said it was the treating physician who should decide whether a patient with coronavirus had died due to it.
Earlier, the Director of the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases had said that the number of samples coming for testing to the NICED in the state had seen a fall.
Asked about the Mamata Banerjee government setting up an audit committee on deaths, Dutta said, “Members of the audit committee are updated by attending physicians on the condition of a patient. Hence, the attending physician is the best judge to decide the factors responsible for a death. Moreover, any death in a COVID-19 case occurs due to cardio-respiratory failure, irrespective of co-morbid conditions or infections. Therefore, for counting deaths of COVID-19 patients, one should rely on the treating physician and not a committee.”
The Director added that there was no guideline from the Centre regarding such a committee.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation incidentally has decided to set up a similar panel to certify coronavirus deaths in Mumbai, while Uttar Pradesh is planning to do so.
The Trinamool government has been in a war of words with the Centre and BJP over its handling of coronavirus cases, particularly its recorded figures. On Friday, while the state put out an “active cases” (excluding those dead and recovered) list of 161, the Centre put the total coronavirus cases in West Bengal at 255. Even counting the Bengal numbers for deaths (10) and recovered (55), the total comes to only 226 — 29 less than the Centre’s.
The Union Home Ministry has also accused Bengal of not enforcing the lockdown strictly.
West Bengal Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha told The Indian Express, “Health is a state subject. However, this is a national pandemic. So, we are maintaining constant liaison with the central government.”
On the decision to audit deaths, Sinha said, “This committee is verifying co-morbidities of patients and judging whether they died of COVID-19. We are not interfering in their work and investigation.”
On Friday, the CM warned that she would deploy armed police personnel in high-risk clusters of Kolkata, Howrah, Hooghly and North 24 Parganas districts if people defied lockdown norms. Addressing a meeting of district magistrates and superintendents of police, Mamata said, “In the red zones, lockdown should be properly maintained. No one should be allowed to exit from and enter these areas.” While West Bengal is yet to release a district-wise break-up of cases, the CM said at least 10 districts were “coronavirus-free”.
Dutta said she could not say why West Bengal’s testing numbers were much lower than other states (the state has tested 4,212 samples so far) and said the NICED had the capacity to test 250 samples daily.
Asked about the availability of testing kits, she said the NICED had enough, and had also got kits to conduct rapid testing from the ICMR on Friday.
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