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Highest death rate, low testing, number mismatch: Central team red-flags Bengal

The Centre had constituted 10 IMCTs to tour certain districts in states such as West Bengal, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.

Written by Atri Mitra , Deeptiman Tiwary | Kolkata, New Delhi |
Updated: May 5, 2020 1:59:09 pm
west bengal coronavirus, coronavirus, covid 19, bengal lockdown, covid deaths bengal, mamata banerjee, West bengal government, indian express news Goods train with rice and food grains reaches Barasat railway station, North Pargana, West Bengal.

The Inter-Ministerial Central Team that visited Kolkata, Howrah and certain other districts in West Bengal, to check its coronavirus preparation, has said that at 12.8 per cent, the state has the highest mortality rate among Covid-19 patients in the country, and accused it of low testing, weak surveillance and discrepancies in reporting cases.

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Headed by Ministry of Defence Additional Secretary Apurva Chandra, the team completed its two-week tour of West Bengal on Monday, sending the above as “Final Observations of the IMCT” in a letter addressed to state Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha.

With West Bengal changing protocol since April 30 to reflect all Covid-19 patients in daily statistics and death certificates, the IMCT praised this as well as the increase in the daily testing in the state from 400 to 2,410, but flagged the non-cooperation of the state bureaucracy. Yet to submit its final report to the Centre, it urged the state to take its suggestions “in the right spirit”.

Reacting to the letter, Chief Secretary Sinha said, “Unfortunately, every time, two hours before I get the letter, it is distributed among the media. We are working on it and will answer approprately.”

Highest death rate, low testing, number mismatch: Central team red-flags Bengal At a Kolkata hospital. Be transparent, don’t downplay virus, says IMCT letter. (Express photo)

In his letter, Chandra said, “The IMCT notes that the state government has on 30.04.2020 made a pronouncement that henceforth all death of COVID patients would be indicated in the daily statistics and the death certificate would be issued by hospitals with the Committee of Doctors examining random samples. This is a big step towards transparency. At the same time, it raises the total death count of COVID patients in the state to 105 on 30.04.2020. For a total reported number of 816 Covid patients, the mortality rate of 12.8 per cent is by far the highest in the country.

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This extremely high mortality rate is a clear indication of low testing and weak surveillance and tracking.”

The letter also alleged discrepancy in various Covid-related data released by the state government. It said that in one instance the state’s medical bulletin put the total patients at 744, but on the same day gave the figure of 931 in a communication to the Union Ministry of Health.

“The state needs to be transparent and consistent in reporting Covid figures and not downplay the spread of the virus. The bulletins of 1st and 2nd May do not even mention the total number of cases and deaths in the state,” the letter said.

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It added that while the state has claimed very high level of daily surveillance, no database was shared with the IMCT. During the stay of the team, for example, 50 lakh people would have been surveyed in the four districts which it visited. While the collation of such data would require a robust system, the letter said, “no such evidence was available during our stay or field visits”.

It also accused the state of non-cooperation, saying it was not given access to officials, barring the Principal Secretary, Health. “In short, the state has taken an antagonistic view, and has not supported the IMCT in performing its duties.

This contradiccts with the experience of the IMCTs in other states.”

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The Centre had constituted 10 IMCTs to tour certain districts in states such as West Bengal, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. The teams — which the Centre said had to be constituted because there were “routine violation of lockdown guidelines” in these states — were supposed to make on-the-spot assessment of the situation, suggest redress and send a report to the Centre.

West Bengal had called the move “against the spirit of federalism”, with multiple instances of exchange of words between the Centre and state over it. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee accused the IMCT of calling state officers “indiscriminately”, hampering the efforts against Covid-19.

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