The total number of deaths in Mumbai after the pandemic hit the city in March surged by nearly 37 per cent compared to 2019. As per data accessed from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), between March 1 and July 31 this year Mumbai recorded a total of 49,040 deaths as compared to 35,982 in the same period in 2019. In absolute numbers the total deaths in the city during this period increased by 13,058.
Accounting for 6,395 Covid-19 deaths until July 31 as per BMC data, Mumbai witnessed 6,663 more deaths in those five months of 2020 than in the same time last year. The maximum deaths occurred in May when 14,085 people died, as opposed to 6,832 in May last year. In June this year there were 11,540 deaths, a high spike over the 6,797 deaths last year.
In May, Mumbai was at the peak of Covid-19 infections. This is the highest fatality in a month for Mumbai in a decade. The numbers may increase as death registration is an ongoing process.
In March, Mumbai’s total 6,692 deaths were lower than the 7,358 in 2019. But since April the overall deaths have been steadily climbing, from 7,243 in April to 14,085 in May, 11,540 in June and 9,480 in July.
Civic officials said three factors had to be taken into account in understanding this year’s high death numbers: the high number of Covid-19 deaths, and the lower number of deaths on the tracks and in road accidents this year due to the lockdown.
It means that while Covid-19 led to a rise in overall deaths this year, even accounting for BMC’s Covid-19 fatality count, the number of deaths is still high compared to last year. The high number is even more apparent because there were fewer railway and road fatalities in 2020 as compared to 2019.
There were only 260 railway accident deaths this year as opposed to 1,068 last year from March 1 to July 31. There were 144 deaths in road accidents between January and July, against 264 deaths last year.
Dr Mangala Gomare, BMC’s executive health officer, said they are yet to analyse why deaths suddenly rose in May and June, but she maintained that the official Covid-19 record remains at 6,593. “It is possible there was rise in non-Covid deaths due to lack of health facilities during the pandemic. Our team has begun to study death registrations to assess causes,” she said.
Suresh Kakani, BMC’s additional municipal commissioner, said over 40 per cent of total hospitalisations were of patients from outside Mumbai during pandemic. “If any of those patients died, even that death is registered in our records. That may explain the unusual rise in deaths,” he said. Mumbai hospitals admit several Covid-19 patients from Thane, Navi Mumbai and Palghar. In the event of their death here, death certificate is issued from BMC.
Milind Mhaske, NGO Praja programme director, said, “This is still a huge rise in deaths and there must be a reason to explain this discrepancy. It is possible deaths due to other illnesses increased, but that needs to be studied.” Praja’s Right to Information data shows on an average there are 500 deaths per month due to tuberculosis. Civic officials said there is no huge difference in the numbers this year.
Health experts said it is possible certain Covid-19 deaths may have gone off radar because of the change in Indian Council of Medical Research guidelines in June to not test a dead body for Covid-19. A senior doctor in KEM hospital said in March and April they tested every dead body for Covid-19, a practice that was stopped later. “Now we don’t test bodies even if the deceased had symptoms of Covid-19,” the doctor said, requesting anonymity.
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