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824 funerals raise concerns on official data in Bhopal

Many people complain that labs are full and are refusing to accept fresh samples.
People perform last rites to the victims who died due to Covid-19 amid the surge in cases, at a crematorium in Bhopal. (ANI Photo)
Updated on Apr 21, 2021 02:22 AM IST
By Shruti Tomar, Bhopal

At least 824 people have been cremated or buried in Bhopal with Covid-19 protocol in the last 12 days, according to the administration of crematoriums and graveyards in the city, but the state’s official Covid-19 death toll in the same period is 34.

Families of the victims, health department officials and workers at crematorium and graveyards in the city say that a majority of these 824 people – a number confirmed by the state government – were those who exhibited symptoms consistent with Covid-19 but couldn’t be tested due to shortage of kits and long delays at labs.

The state government said these 824 cases were treated as “suspected” Covid-19 cases and weren’t added to the official tally because none of the patients had any report confirming that they were suffering from Covid-19.

State health minister Prabhuram Chaudhary confirmed that 824 people had died in Bhopal in the last 12 days and were classified as “suspected Covid 19 patients” but dismissed charges by the patients’ families that the administration was hiding deaths. “...Why will we hide the number of deaths?... Chief minister has urged people to get Covid tests done immediately after symptoms because many persons are delaying test,” he said.

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Currently, it takes between three to five days for a Covid test report to arrive. Many people in the city complain that labs are full and are refusing to accept fresh samples.

Director medical education Nishant Warwade said, “We have enough kits for the next 20 days for 2000 government laboratories. We are providing report within 48 hours. I can’t comment on situation at private lab.”

A senior health department official said only those with confirmed Covid-19 tests and without any co-morbidities were added to the state’s death tally.

“We are following the ICMR [Indian Council of Medical Research] protocol of recording deaths...,” said the health official, who was not willing to be named. But he admitted that many people in the city were dying without a confirmed Covid report. “I think the ICMR should change the protocol for reporting death and consider CT scan also for positive cases,” he said.

Independent medical experts have repeatedly said that people with co-morbidities, who die after contracting the virus, should be counted in the Covid-19 death tally. The state posted 12,727 cases and 77 deaths on Tuesday, taking its tally to 433, 704 and 4,713, respectively.

Families of the victims said they faced long delays and struggled to get basic medical facilities, hospital beds or tests. Shafique Khan was one of them.

Khan, 45, had mild symptoms of Covid 19 from April 9, was not able to get a bed in hospital or oxygen at home, and was buried in a Bhopal on Monday. “Uncle (Khan) tried getting himself tested but no one came to take his samples. ... Last Sunday, he started facing difficulty in breathing. His family took him to three hospitals in Bhopal but none admitted him as he did not have a Covid positive report... He died without treatment on Monday,” said his niece, Nighat Khan.

He was buried as per Covid protocol as he was a “suspect Covid” patient but his death was not recorded in the official tally, said an official of the local burial ground requesting anonymity.

Many said they had to wait up to 18 hours for the final rites. “When I reached to collect ashes of my father Keshav Parmar, I found his body half burnt. I lodged complaint with crematorium administration,” said Narendra Parmar, whose father died of Covid-19 on Monday.

Crematorium manager, Mamtesh Sharma, admitted that the body was half-burnt. “There is shortage of wood...,” he said.

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