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Friday, July 10, 2020

200 Chennai deaths ‘missing’ from state toll; TN govt probes

The estimate is based on a “preliminary assessment” of the city corporation's records, the official said. Tamil Nadu had reported 326 Covid deaths till Wednesday evening, including 260 within Chennai city limits alone.

Written by Arun Janardhanan | Chennai | Updated: June 11, 2020 11:14:24 am
Tamil Nadu death toll, Chennai death data, chennai toll, Tamil Nadu coronavirus cases, Nurses protest over staff shortage in Chennai. (PTI photo)

The Tamil Nadu government has ordered a Covid death audit in Chennai after it came to light that “not less than” 200 fatalities suspected to be linked to the infection did not make it to the state’s official toll, a senior health official told The Indian Express.

The estimate is based on a “preliminary assessment” of the city corporation’s records, the official said. Tamil Nadu had reported 326 Covid deaths till Wednesday evening, including 260 within Chennai city limits alone.

Officials blamed the “mismatch” on a “procedural lapse” since there was no system of reporting deaths recorded in the Chennai corporation’s registry to the government on a daily basis.

READ | Recovered cases more than active cases: Health Ministry

Denying allegations that the government had “fudged” the numbers to show a lesser toll, the state’s Health Secretary Beela Rajesh said that a “nine-member reconciliation committee to streamline Covid-19 deaths data will look into all such cases”.

“We don’t have to hide the death data, we cannot do that. We have been accurately reporting all Covid-19 deaths as reported from hospitals in the public and private sector. Following latest reports that there were several deaths that were not reported, we have formed this committee to assess all these alleged Covid-19 deaths in city limits,” she said.

Read | Tamil Nadu varsity predicts 1.5 lakh Covid cases in Chennai by mid-July

Rajesh said that the government is yet to ascertain the number of deaths that did not make it to the official toll as the committee was “still collecting data”.

“Even if we have an efficient system to collect data from all hospitals including medical colleges and private hospitals about Covid-19 deaths, the system on the ground has had no practice of reporting deaths on a daily basis before the Covid outbreak. We suspect that these alleged deaths were cases such as home deaths or those that happened at private clinics, etc.,” she said.

A corporation official told The Indian Express that “there were lapses” in updating the city’s death and birth registry regularly due to a staff crunch, and the additional workload of managing the lockdown and over 1,000 containment zones.

“After the outbreak started, there were delays in compiling this data. Probably, this led to the mismatch,” the official said.

READ | Lack of ventilators, ICU beds, staff in hospitals: A Covid-19 positive family struggles for treatment in Chennai

The Director of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Dr P Vadivelan, has now issued an order stating that “from now on, all the Covid-19 deaths of Chennai corporation has to be notified on a daily basis”. Vadivelan, who is also heading the reconciliation committee, said the panel “will look into each and every death”.

There have been multiple allegations over the credibility of the government’s official death count.

Chennai-based anti-corruption initiative, Arappor Iyakkam, has complained to the Health Secretary in a letter that three Covid deaths in a government medical college were not added to the state’s toll.

READ | Tamil Nadu: DMK leader J Anbazhagan dies of Covid-19; Chennai cases rises to 25,937

“Government medical colleges report directly to the Health Department. Even if the department is blaming the city corporation for not reporting about 200 Covid deaths, how did they miss the deaths in a government medical college?” said Jayaraman Venkatesan of Arappor Iyakkam.

Over 20 deaths at a Southern Railway hospital at Perambur in Chennai city, too, have allegedly not found space in the official death data. Officials at the hospital said they had reported the deaths to the corporation.

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