AT LEAST 451 deaths of Covid-19 patients in Mumbai were not reported by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), a massive data reconciliation exercise by Maharashtra government has shown.
Coronavirus numbers explained: Why Mumbai is latest to revise Covid-19 death toll
As of Monday, Mumbai had 59,293 cases and 2,250 deaths (of Maharashtra’s total of 1.10 lakh cases and 4,128 deaths). BMC data show eight other Covid-19 patients died of some other illness.
Sources said the BMC has told the state government that three of the 451 had actually died due to unnatural causes (suicide or accident), and that 20 other names were duplication in data. Officials also said that over the last week, the BMC had reported 57 of the 451 deaths in a staggered manner. Sources said this was done after top state officials asked the BMC to “come clean” at a meeting last week.
That meant the reporting of 371 deaths remains pending now, officials said.
The mortality rate in Mumbai currently is 3.7%, which is much higher than the national average of 2.8%. The mortality rate may rise to 4.5% now.
Health officials said the “discrepancy” came up during an exercise to match Covid-19 figures of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) portal with the Maharashtra government’s. The exercise, which spanned several days, ended on June 6. It analysed each case, removed duplication and updated patient details for those recovered, still infected and those who had succumbed to the infection.
On June 10, each district was informed if there was a mismatch in figures, and the next day, state Health Secretary Dr Pradeep Vyas wrote to all to submit the updated data, with the deadline 5 pm, Monday (June 15). “Any data mismatch brought to notice subsequently would be viewed very seriously,” the notification stated.
“We found that 451 patients in Mumbai had no update,” a state health official said, adding, “Further inquiry found these patients had died but were not included in the official Covid count.”
According to ICMR guidelines, the death of any coronavirus patient has to be notified as Covid death unless the patient has terminal illness, or dies due to poisoning, accident or suicide.
Maharashtra Chief Secretary Ajoy Mehta told The Indian Express, “We intend to remain transparent on the cases and death numbers. Once the entire reconciliation exercise is over, the data will be scrutinised and official cases will be updated.” Mehta added that they will probe why there was a discrepancy in figures. “If it is human error, it is alright, but if there was mala fide intention, we will take action accordingly.”
While BMC spokesperson Dr Daksha Shah, Additional Municipal Commissioner Suresh Kakani and Commissioner Iqbal Chahal did not respond to calls and messages, state epidemiologist Dr Pradeep Awate said the gap in Mumbai deaths “could possibly be due to human error in reporting” the figures. In March when the pandemic began, districts were supposed to manually feed data and report each case and death to the state government. In May, the Centre introduced a central online portal called CV Analytics. All laboratories and district officials were asked to enter data into that portal. Officials said the data discrepancy emerged through this portal. Figures provided by laboratories differed from those updated by the BMC. In several cases, there was incomplete information on patients in Mumbai on the portal.
Awate added, “Mumbai and Maharashtra are recording thousands of cases. It is not easy to maintain updated data.”
The BMC’s staggered updating to include the missing deaths is reflected in its numbers the past few days. On June 13, for instance, the toll put out by the civic body included 19 deaths that had occurred between May 27 and June 10.
The number on June 12 too included some deaths that had taken place between May 20 and June 9. Requesting anonymity, a civic official said “reporting all deaths at once may trigger panic” and hence a decision was taken to include a few of the unaccounted numbers every day.
On Monday, Leader of the Opposition Devendra Fadnavis wrote to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray raising concern over the “unreported deaths” in Mumbai. He claimed around 500 Covid deaths across hospitals in Mumbai were yet to be referred to the death audit committee.
A member of the seven-member BMC death audit committee said they meet daily or at least twice a week to scrutinise each deceased patient’s medical documents. “We only opine on whether or not it is a Covid-19 death.
Accordingly the epidemiology cell reports these figures. We do not maintain a tally of deaths.”
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