West Bengal Wednesday revealed that 105 persons infected with the coronavirus had died in the state, but maintained that only 33 of these deaths could directly be attributed to COVID-19. The other 72 had pre-existing diseases, or co-morbidities, and the fact that they had also tested positive for coronavirus was “incidental”, Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha said.
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The latest numbers were revealed by an expert committee that was formed to carry out an audit of all the coronavirus deaths being reported in the state and assess the exact reasons.
“The Death Audit Committee has recommended that Health Department officials should keep more records of patients, and improve the procedure of keeping records. The committee also advised that there should be a uniform format to issue death certificates. The committee advised the death certificates should have immediate cause of death, antecedent cause of death and underlying cause of death,” Sinha said.
West Bengal had formed this committee on April 2. Till that day, the state had reported seven deaths, but the government revised it downward to three, citing the same reason.
On April 24, the expert committee gave its first report in which it had said that of the 57 deaths of coronavirus-positive patients in the state till then, only 18 could be attributed directly to COVID-19.
Co-morbid conditions in people dying due to COVID-19 is not uncommon. In fact, more than 50 per cent of people who have died in India had a pre-existing disease — diabetes and hypertension were the most common. The details of many of the rest are not known, and it is possible that a significant number even among those would have co-morbid conditions.
Most of the other states have included the deaths of all those who tested positive in its COVID-19 toll. And, no state has reported such a large difference in the numbers of actual deaths of coronavirus-positive patients, and those whose deaths have been ascertained to have been caused primarily by COVID-19.
However, following in the footsteps of West Bengal, several have also constituted death audit committees. Authorities in Delhi, Mumbai and Punjab have announced that expert committees would assess the cause of death in every case where a positive patient dies.
On Thursday, West Bengal reported that it had 572 “active” Coronavirus cases. A total of 139 people who had earlier tested positive had recovered, while 33 had died.
That would give the state a total caseload of 744. But, by adding the 72 others who have died, since they have been confirmed to have tested positive, the total number of cases would go up to 816. This would mean that at least one in every eight persons who has tested positive in the state has died. No other state in the country has such a high case fatality ratio.
The Indian Express has reported that West Bengal was the state with the fastest spread of the disease right now, and the lowest doubling time.
In the last 24 hours, Sinha said, 1,905 samples were tested. Overall, the 14 designated labs in the state have tested 16,525 samples. “One of our testing laboratories has not been working over the last three days due to some technical problems. Two more private laboratories have been added to the list but they have not started testing samples of COVID-19,” Sinha said.
According to a report by the Health Department, positive cases are now being reported mainly from Kolkata, Howrah, Hooghly and North 24 Parganas districts.
“All over the state, there are 444 containment zones, of which major zones are from three districts, Kolkata, Howrah and North 24 Parganas. In Kolkata, there are 264 containment zones. In Howrah and North 24 Parganas, there are 72 and 70 containment zones, respectively,” the report states.
The official figures show that 5,288 persons are in government quarantine and 10,773 in home.