Covid-19 deaths in Bengal double in 5 days as govt junks casualty audit panel
West Bengal’s ‘official’ coronavirus death toll has doubled in the five days since the state virtually shelved its Covid-19 death audit committee in the face of a raging controversy.
While the state attributed 33 deaths to Covid-19 between March 23 and April 30, another 35 deaths were reported in the last five days.
This steep rise in the death toll is largely because the state, between April 1 and April 30, attributed 72 deaths to comorbidity, a practice that stopped on April 30. Since May 1, the state has not attributed a single death to ‘comorbidity’. However, on Tuesday it maintained that the death toll stood at 68. This meant, even though the state was no longer attributing deaths to comorbidity, it would not include those already attributed to comorbidity, into its official death toll.
Taking all deaths into account, Bengal’s Covid-19 death toll stood at 140 on May 5, with a total of 1,344 persons testing positive, including seven dying and 85 testing positive in the last 24 hours.
“During chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s meeting with doctors’ associations on April 28, we told her that the deaths needed to be declared as per World Health Organisation (WHO)’s guidelines, using International Classification of Disease (ICD) 10 coding, in short, by mentioning Covid-19 in the death certificate of every one testing positive. She had agreed to our suggestions, and sought 10 days’ time from us to fix all the errors that we had pointed out. It’s good to see she has heeded our suggestions and things are changing for the better,” said Kaushik Chaki, secretary of the West Bengal Doctors’ Forum.
Asked if the state now considered the introduction of death audits a mistake, Chandrima Bhattacharya, junior minister for health, said, “Why should it be a mistake? Dissecting comorbidity in deaths is an internationally recognised practice.”
Figures related to the deaths of Covid-19 patients went totally awry in the state since the beginning of April, when CM Banerjee appointed a committee of doctors to find out which patient died of coronavirus infection and which of co-morbid conditions. Bengal was seamlessly sharing data on Covid-19 till March 31, when the state put the death toll at 3 and the cumulative number of persons testing positive at 27. Till then, the state gave data for past 24 hours and also cumulative figures for deaths, persons testing positive and recoveries.
The first change happened on April 1, when 3 more persons died and 10 tested positive. The health department’s daily bulletin left the cumulative death figure at 3 and said that the declaration of the latest 3 deaths was “subject to confirmation”. The state did not issue any bulletin for the next two days and, from April 4, the bulletin’s format changed, with the state sharing data only for active Covid-19 cases instead of the cumulative numbers and mentioning only those deaths that had been attributed to Covid-19 by the expert committee.
The first time the state came up with data on the deaths attributed to co-morbidity was on April 24, two days after an inter-ministerial central team sought Bengal’s explanation on the rationale behind its Covid-19 death declarations. Chief secretary Rajiva Sinha, on April 24, attributed 18 deaths to coronavirus infection and 39 to co-morbidity. On April 30, Sinha attributed 33 deaths to Covid-19 and 72 to ‘comorbidity’.
After the state came up with detailed data on May 4, following another letter from the inter-ministerial central team, it also became clear that the state had reported 214 fewer cases of persons testing positive by April 30.
Taking a dig at the ruling Trinamool Congress government, Sujan Chakraborty, the leader of the Left parties in the state Assembly, said, “Kerala found out innovative ways to fight Covid-19 and everyone can see the results. Bengal, unfortunately, has found an innovative way to suppress data related to deaths and of people testing positive.”