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Covid deaths 10th of fatalities last year in same period

By, New Delhi
Aug 19, 2022 01:08 PM IST

Of the 33,161 deaths that have taken place till August 17 this year, nearly half (47.4%) can be traced to just one state — Kerala — which has 15,706 deaths this calendar year.

Around 33,000 Covid-19 deaths have occurred in India so far in 2022, which is a little over a tenth of the number of reported fatalities seen across the country in the same period last year. The country has recorded 9.4 million Covid-19 infections in the same period, which translates into a fatality rate of 0.35%.

A person being inoculated with a booster dose of Covid-19 vaccine at district hospital in Sector 30, Noida, India, on Thursday, August 18, 2022. (Photo by Sunil Ghosh / Hindustan Times) (Hindustan Times) PREMIUM
A person being inoculated with a booster dose of Covid-19 vaccine at district hospital in Sector 30, Noida, India, on Thursday, August 18, 2022. (Photo by Sunil Ghosh / Hindustan Times) (Hindustan Times)

The statistic highlights the difference in the impact of the pandemic this year and what the world experienced before vaccines.

Of the 33,161 deaths that have taken place till August 17 this year, nearly half (47.4%) can be traced to just one state — Kerala — which has 15,706 deaths this calendar year. Data also shows that eight regions with most deaths together account for nearly 80% of all of this year’s Covid fatalities, while the remaining 28 states and Union territories account for the remaining 20% of deaths, according to data from Covid-19 bulletins issued by state governments compiled by HT.

To be sure, the number of deaths that have been added to the national tally this year has been higher, but that is because states have been reconciling their death figures to account for fatalities that had previously gone unreported. A total of 48,346 fatalities have been counted so far this year, but five states — Kerala, Maharashtra, Punjab, Assam and Goa — together have added a combined total of 15,185 fatalities that had taken place earlier. This means that at least 31% of all deaths added to this year’s count across India occurred in 2020 or 2021.

With 7,150 uncounted deaths added through the year, Kerala has added the highest number of old fatalities to its tally, followed by 4,005 unreported deaths added by Maharashtra on March 25. On July 19, Punjab added 2,563 unreported fatalities to its tally, while Assam added 1,347 old deaths and Goa added 120 such fatalities through the year.

Such statistical correction has not only artificially pushed up the country’s death count in 2022, but also implied that the fatalities reported previously was a lot higher than believed.

This also highlights how a handful of states have seen a majority of the deaths that have taken place this year. Maharashtra, which has seen 2,649 deaths due to Covid-19 in 2022 as of August 17, accounts for 8% of the national tally, followed by Karnataka with 1,833 deaths (5.5% of India’s deaths) this year. With 1,663 deaths this year, West Bengal accounts for 5% of fatalities in the country, while Delhi, with 1,293 deaths in 2022, accounts for around 4% of all deaths.

Next on the list are Tamil Nadu with 1,257 deaths in 2022 and Punjab with 1,229 fatalities. Gujarat with 878 deaths in 2022, Odisha with 699 fatalities and Uttar Pradesh with 672 deaths wrap up the top 10 regions in the country with most deaths this year.

A senior official of the Union health ministry said that states are supposed to conduct Covid death reconciliation every month so that there is no under-reporting of deaths. However, the official, who did not wish to be identified, agreed that most states were not doing so in a “timely manner”.

“Some of the states that are up-to-date with death reconciliation are Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Delhi and Tamil Nadu. The problem is that many states do not want to admit that there were deaths caused by Covid infection that were missed by their hospitals or state surveillance teams. We have, however, repeatedly reminded states to conduct reconciliation every month so that the backlogs are not too much. But ultimately, this matter falls with the states,” said the official.

A Delhi government official said that the Capital does not have many backlogs of Covid deaths because of a thorough death recording system. The official said only in “rare cases” when a deceased patient later tested positive for Covid infection and could not be recorded in the daily bulletin, is a reconciliation done.

In Punjab, officials say the reconciliation is currently underway in eight more districts and 1,200 more deaths are expected to be added to the tally by the end of August, said state nodal officer Covid-19, Dr Rajesh Bhaskar.

Other states say that they have maintained a system that ensures every Covid death is accounted for. “Death of any patient admitted to hospital after testing positive for Covid is considered to be a Covid death hence we did not required reconciliation for such deaths in state,” said Dr Vikasendu Agrawal, state surveillance officer, UP health department.

Excluding the death reconciliation number, however, highlights the difference in the impact of the pandemic this year, compared to what India experienced previously — particularly in 2021, where it was ravaged by the brutal second Covid wave.

According to numbers from HT’s Covid-19 dashboard, a total of 283,482 deaths were reported in the country in 2021 till August 17. If we assume that even half of the 15,185 deaths reconciled this year took place in 2021, it would mean that India saw more than 291,000 Covid deaths so far in 2021. When seen against this year’s tally of 33,161, it means that for every 100 people who died last year, only 11 have died in the same period this year.

The fall in death rate, however, is not surprising and can be largely explained by the onset of vaccination along with doctors learning over time how to better clinically treat Covid-19. This is why the January 2022 (Omicron) wave saw far fewer deaths than the 2021 Delta surge.

This also gives us a good idea of what lies ahead in what appears to be a never-ending battle against Covid-19. As long as vaccination (which includes booster shots) keeps sufficiently protecting people from newer outbreaks, fatalities as well as disruptions to daily life can be contained, despite the occasional rise in cases and fresh waves.

With inputs from Soumya Pillai in Delhi, Ravinder Vasudeva in Chandigarh, Somita Pal in Mumbai, Ramesh Babu in Thiruvananthapuram, Utpal Parashar in Guwahati, Gerard de Souza in Panaji and Gaurav Saigal in Lucknow

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Jamie Mullick works as a chief content producer at Hindustan Times. He uses data and graphics to tell his stories.

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