Updated: July 2, 2021 7:31:48 am
Following Supreme Court’s direction to the National Disaster Management Authority to recommend guidelines for ex gratia to family members of those who lost their lives during the pandemic, the demand to review the coronavirus death tally in Kerala has gathered momentum.
The state government has been under fire from opposition parties and some public health experts for allegedly eliminating many Covid-19 deaths from the official list.
State Health Minister Veena George, however, said the government has nothing to hide. “We have a decentralised Covid-19 death reporting system,” she said.
However, George added, “If any death has been missed in the past, the government is open to look into (it). We are not against ensuring help for victims.”
As on July 1, Kerala has officially reported 13,360 Covid-related deaths, with a fatality rate of 0.4 per cent, one of the lowest in the country. With a population of 3.33 crore, Kerala, with 29 lakh cases, now ranks second in confirmed Covid-19 cases in the country. The state government has highlighted the relatively low fatality rate as its major feat in the Covid-19 battle.
The US-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, however, has projected that Kerala may have had 25,000 Covid-19 deaths so far.
On Thursday, Opposition leader V D Satheesan said the government should disclose the “actual” Covid-19 toll in Kerala. “In the backdrop of the SC order, all eligible persons should be included in the list of Covid-19 victims. The figures released so far by the government are erroneous,” he alleged. “A fresh list of people who died of Covid-19 should be prepared. We are not blaming the government, but demanding that all victims should be included in the list.”
Reacting to the Opposition allegation, Health Minister George said, “At present, doctors who treated the patients (who died) are uploading the report, which would be coordinated at the district level. We have been following ICMR and WHO guidelines.”
Until three weeks ago, Covid-19 deaths in Kerala were declared by a state level audit committee, which took a decision based on report from the districts. Hundreds of deaths of patients, who tested negative for the virus but died of post-Covid complications or Covid-induced diseases, have been dropped from the official list of Covid-19 deaths, it was pointed out.
Besides, testing strategy in Kerala has been designed in a manner to reduce Covid-19 deaths, experts point out. For patients who test positive, and have moderate symptoms or are asymptomatic, there is no repeat testing before they are discharged. But for patients in critical condition, there is a repeat of the antigen test to ascertain whether they have turned negative. When patients in critical category die, most of them would have turned negative, and such deaths go unreported as Covid-19 deaths, it was pointed out.
Public health expert Dr N M Arun, who is tracking Covid-19 deaths, said Kerala had dropped at least 1,600 deaths from the official list in the first wave. “The repeated test of critical patients is meant only to drop Covid-19 as cause of death from the list,’’ he maintained.
Sources in the Health Department said transparent reporting of Covid-19 deaths is taking place only in the district of Thiruvananthapuram, the state capital, which accounts for 21 per cent coronavirus deaths in Kerala.
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