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Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Trust in data

With COVID-19 testing capacity at an all-time high, onus is on authorities to ensure accuracy, integrity of information.

By: Editorial | Updated: October 30, 2020 8:13:53 am
The BJP’s hopes for the GHMC, which encompasses 24 assembly seats across four districts, ride on expectations born of its recent electoral success in Telangana.

On several occasions during the pandemic, epidemiologists, public health experts and academics have raised concerns about India’s COVID-19 data. A lot of these problems could be ascribed to the enormous public health challenge. In the early months, the Centre and the West Bengal government bickered over the state’s death count, the toll at the national capital’s hospitals was far more than that claimed by the Delhi government and, for weeks, the mortality data released by the government of the country’s worst-affected state, Maharashtra, did not match the ICMR figures. To their credit, the erring agencies identified the glitches and, by September, it seemed that they had put their house in order. Now, with the pandemic showing early signs of abating, questions over data have been raised again. The charge, this time, is far more serious than that of administrative ineptitude. The managing director of one of the country’s top diagnostic laboratories has told this paper that authorities in some districts are trying to control testing processes in order to show a “better scorecard”. The Centre and state governments must investigate the use of such devious tactics and take corrective action.

On Thursday, the Union Health Ministry informed that on an average, nearly 11 lakh tests were conducted daily in the past six weeks. According to the ministry, the country now has the resources to conduct more than 15 lakh daily tests. The steady expansion of testing is one of the recent successes in the country’s battle against the coronavirus. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged in his address to the nation last week, “we should improve upon the situation, not allow it to deteriorate”. An accurate picture of the case count is crucial to containment strategies such as drawing up hotspots and keeping medical infrastructure in a state of readiness. With most containment work being increasingly devolved to state and district-level officials, the onus of credible information gathering is also on these authorities. With the country’s testing capacity at an all-time high — and consistently on the uptick — data accuracy should be the mantra of agencies and officials at all levels.

Barely a week after PM Modi’s warning, there has been a spurt in infections in Maharashtra, Delhi, West Bengal and Karnataka. The recent surge of the virus in Europe also shows that the virus remains an unpredictable adversary. However, we know much more about it compared to 10 months ago. Doctoring data, hiding the true picture, would be doing disservice to the country’s achievements and learnings in this period.

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