Railway worker sprays disinfectant on COVID19 isolation coach during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Kolkata on Wednesday.(ANI)
Railway worker sprays disinfectant on COVID19 isolation coach during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Kolkata on Wednesday.(ANI)

West Bengal Covid death data under scanner

The government said on Monday that it would consult an expert committee of doctors before linking any fatality to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), responding to allegations that it is suppressing information about the deadly infection.
By HT Correspondent | Hindustan Times, Kolkata
UPDATED ON APR 10, 2020 12:22 PM IST

With five deaths till Thursday, and 107 infections, West Bengal seems to have Covid-19 under control. But, according to state government data, it tested only 1889 till April 9, and its protocol for reporting Covid-19 fatalities has come under question.

The government said on Monday that it would consult an expert committee of doctors before linking any fatality to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), responding to allegations that it is suppressing information about the deadly infection.

“We have formed a committee of five doctors who will decide the actual cause of death. They are the experts, I am not. We do not want to create panic among people. Please trust the doctors,” chief minister Mamata Banerjee said .

Unlike other states, the West Bengal government is reluctant to attribute the deaths of Covid-19 patients with pre-existing conditions like heart disease or diabetes to the virus alone although experts say that such conditions make the Covid-19 disease deadlier. Other states attribute such deaths to Covid-19.

A government order issued on April 5, and seen by HT, said that doctors signing death certificates must fill out a form which will then be scrutinized by a committee of five doctors; and attach 24 test reports, including for scrub typhus, dengue, malaria, CPK (enzymes in blood to diagnose heart attack) and Procalcitonin (substance in blood produced by bacterial infection). They are also required to attach CT scan reports of the thorax and a liver function test.

West Bengal, with a projected population of 10.09 crore in 2020 according to national census survey, has far fewer cases per million than Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

On Wednesday, the chief minister announced that Covid-19 cases were restricted to only seven identified pockets in West Bengal. Additionally, it set up a data analysis cell comprising nine members including six doctors, to collect and collate data on a rea- time basis, “examine it and detect patterns and undercurrents.”

The first person to test positive in the state was an 18-year-old UK returnee on March 17.

The first death was of a 57-year-old at a private hospital on March 23. At that time, the cumulative number of positive cases stood at seven.

On March 27, with five new persons testing positive, the cumulative number went up to 15.

On March 31, with five new persons testing positive, the cumulative number went up to 27 and the number of dead was three.

The format of the daily health bulletin issued by the state government was first changed on April 1, when two more deaths were reported.

The bulletin stuck to three fatalities, and appended a note, which read, “two male persons both aged 57 years and one male person aged 62 years all having Severe Acute Respiratory Illness expired. One of them had Chronic Renal Failure, another had Respiratory Failure and the third one had hypertension and other co-morbid conditions. They had all reportedly tested positive, which is subject to confirmation.”

From that day on, the government began to make a distinction between those who died of Covid-19 and those who were infected with Covid-19 but died of co-morbidity.

From April 4, the format of the bulletin changed entirely. The government began to give data only for active cases and made no mention of the cumulative figure. This led to confusion over the number of total positives, as the Union ministry of health and family welfare’s website gave state-wise data for the cumulative figure. For example, on April 4, the state’s bulletin put the number of active cases at 49, but the Union ministry’s website put the state’s cumulative figure at 69.

Breaking her long silence on the number of people from West Bengal who attended the Tablighi Jamaat meeting in Delhi in March the chief minister said on April 8: “Around 10 to 12 days ago we quietly quarantined 108 foreigners and 69 people from Bengal who attended the Delhi congregation. The foreigners came from countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar. All 177 have been kept in a quarantine facility developed at the Haj Centre,” Banerjee said.

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