13,000 excess deaths in Bhopal since Covid outbreak
There were 13,122 excess deaths registered by the municipal corporation in Bhopal since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak (from March 2020 to July 2021), which is 13 times the official number of confirmed coronavirus deaths (995) in the city in the same time period, data accessed through an RTI application by HT shows.
This means there were 12,127 deaths that may have possibly been caused by Covid-19 or other causes.
In 2021 alone, there were 10,298 excess deaths in the city – a testament to the brutal toll of the second wave. Of these, 6,652 excess deaths were just in two months – May and June, a time when the city’s hospitals were overflowing with patients.
In total numbers, in just the first seven months of 2021, the city saw 16,318 deaths registered – more than the city did in any calendar year since 2015. In fact, deaths in 2021 till July are already 53% more than the city’s pre-pandemic yearly average of 10,633 deaths.
“Excess death” or mortality is a generalised term that refers to the total number of deaths occurring due to all causes during a crisis that is above and beyond what would have been expected under regular conditions. To be sure, not all such excess deaths may be due to Covid-19, but during a pandemic such major deviations in fatalities are likely to be either directly or indirectly caused by the outbreak and the stress it had caused on a region’s health care system. Internationally and domestically, such data has provided vital information on the true toll of the pandemic on human life.
For the analysis here, municipal death registration data from the pre-pandemic period (January 2015 to February 2020) has been averaged to establish an all-cause mortality baseline, which has then been compared to the deaths registered from March 2020 onwards, to come up with the number of “excess deaths”.
In the pandemic period, there were 13,122 such “excess deaths” in Bhopal, despite 1,129 fewer deaths (compared to the 2015-2019 average) in April and May 2020 – a factor that can be explained by the hard nationwide lockdown.
Till July 31, Bhopal had seen 995 deaths due to Covid-19, according to government data, which also accounts for backlog deaths added to the tally. Thus, the city saw 12,127 deaths over and above the fatalities confirmed to be caused by Covid-19. When seen together with the Covid-19 toll, it means that the city had a fatality undercount factor of 13.2 times.
Harshit Tiwari, deputy commissioner of the Bhopal Municipal Corporation said that the registration of deaths in the city did not mean that the person was a resident of Bhopal. “If someone dies in Bhopal, the registration will be done by BMC. So, a possibility exists that these include deaths of those from outside the city.”
The state Public Health and Family Welfare minister Prabhuram Chaudhary said that while the situation was under control in 2020 when the Prime Minister announced a complete lockdown, in 2021, the second wave couldn’t be contained with people caught “off guard”. He added that he was not “aware” of these numbers. “Bhopal and Indore were places where the highest number of people reached for Covid treatment. They died while undergoing treatment, and family members cremated and buried them here in Bhopal. But the deaths were in hundreds not in thousands. I will check the reason behind the high registration of deaths in Bhopal,” said Chaudhary.
Raising questions on the high registration of deaths in April and May, health activists said that these statistics exposed government claims, with the numbers for Bhopal, outstripping the number of deaths that they had admitted in the entire state. “If we see the government data of total Covid-19 deaths in May and April in MP, it can’t justify the massive registration of deaths in Bhopal. In April, the government claimed 1,630 deaths and 2,451 in May from the entire state,” said Amulya Nidhi, convener of the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan.
The Congress has attacked the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government, saying that these numbers were evidence of the mismanagement of the second wave. MPCC president and former chief minister Kamal Nath said, “We have been saying from the first day that thousands of people died due to mismanagement during the second wave. When I revealed the data of crematoriums and burial grounds, some BJP leaders filed an FIR against me. Now, if the death registration of Bhopal is so high, we can imagine what has happened in the other 51 districts of MP. The state government should clarify why so many people died in these two months and if the cause of death is not Covid-19, what explains these high numbers.”