Half of all Covid deaths in India took place in April-May, shows government data

Four out of 10 deaths in India during April and May 2021 came from Maharashtra, Karnataka and Delhi, the three states that recorded the highest deaths in this period. Experts said the second wave signs were visible in March when deaths started rising.
A total of 166,632 Covid deaths in India took place in the two months of April and May 2021, half of all Covid deaths. (HT Photo?Representative use)
A total of 166,632 Covid deaths in India took place in the two months of April and May 2021, half of all Covid deaths. (HT Photo?Representative use)
Updated on Jul 25, 2021 02:44 PM IST
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Half of India’s Covid deaths since April 2020 took place in just two months, April and May 2021, according to latest government data, highlighting how deadly the two months were and the sort of impact it had across states.

41% of total Covid deaths in April and May in India came from Maharashtra, Karnataka and Delhi, the three states that recorded the highest deaths in this period. Close to 60% of total Covid deaths in 14 months in Delhi, Karnataka and Punjab happened in April and May, shows the data shared by National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in reply to a Right To Information application by this reporter.

The NCDC said that of the total 329,065 Covid deaths between April 2020 and May 2021, 166,632 took place in April and May 2021. As many as 120,770 people died in May and 45,882 in April, the two months with highest Covid deaths since April 2020.

In June, 69,354 Covid deaths were recorded which includes reconciled deaths, which the authorities failed to mention in April and May data. Before April-May, the highest deaths reported for a month was in September 2020 with 33,035 deaths. September-October was considered the peak of the first Covid wave. And, after that the Covid deaths came down to 2,777 in February 2021.

Experts said that indication of another Covid wave started emerging in March when the Covid deaths more than doubled nationally with a spike in deaths seen in Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Gujarat. Covid cases in all these states were also rising at a rapid rate. This was also the time when political party leaders were aggressively campaigning for assembly elections in Assam, Kerala, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu and preparations were being made for super spreader Haridwar Maha Kumbh.

Post assembly election results on May 2, Covid deaths in the poll states rose up five times, the RTI reply shows. Deaths went up from 921 in West Bengal in April to 4,162 in May, from 177 to 2019 in Assam, from 1,233 to 9,821 in Tamil Nadu and 653 to 3,382 in Kerala for the same period. “One reason for higher cases during this period could be more testing in May. The deaths indicate that state governments ignored the third wave signs and reacted late,” said Dr Shaheed Jamil, who had earlier headed the Central government’s advisory group on Covid genome sequencing.

The NCDC is the health ministry’s nodal agency for maintaining all Covid-19 disease records under Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP). However, non-Covid deaths are not reported to IDSP, the NCDC joint director Dr Vinay Kumar Garg said in the RTI response. And he added they don’t have data on the cause of deaths reported during the pandemic.

The information shared by NCDC shows the impact of the second Covid wave in different states and indicates that the actual number of deaths may not have been reported in some high population states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, having large rural populations, where recording of deaths is not as structured as in cities. “Bihar and UP having such strange Covid figures despite telling signs of high spread are a mystery,” Jamil said.

Uttar Pradesh, which reported 20,346 deaths between April 2020 and May 2021, recorded 8,108 deaths in May, 2021, and 3,438 in April, 2021. Its neighbour, Uttarakhand, which has one-tenth of UP’s population, as per Census population projection for 2021, reported 3,899 deaths in May, which is 48% of the total deaths in Uttar Pradesh for that month. Close to 1,100 Covid deaths that took place in April and May in Uttarakhand were reconciled with June Covid death data and not reflected in NCDC’s May Covid death data.

Uttar Pradesh’s another neighbouring state, Haryana, whose population is one-eighth of UP’s, reported 4,103 deaths, according to the RTI reply. Bihar, which reported 2,624 deaths in May, added 3,951 deaths in the first week of June during the second Covid wave, taking the death toll to 6,575. These cases were added after Patna high court asked the state government to conduct an audit of all deaths in the state. “This includes deaths that took place in April and May,” said a senior Bihar health department official, wishing not to be quoted.

Madhya Pradesh reported low death numbers- 2,500 and 2,020 deaths in May and July respectively. There were also news reports that five times more death certificates were issued in some districts of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh during April and May compared to the official Covid casualty figures.

Dr DS Negi, director general medical health Uttar Pradesh, said they followed the strategy to test, treat and trace suspected Covid patients, helping in quick isolation of positive cases and tracing of contacts. “This helped us to identify positive Covid cases and isolate them early; ...we could save many lives,” he said.

If Covid deaths of all states are compared, Maharashtra reported highest Covid deaths (26,859) among Indian states in May followed by Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Delhi. Covid deaths recorded in the month of May in these states were double the deaths in April, showing that the states failed to control the spread of the virus even a month after it started devastating families across India.

Some states argued that their death counts were higher due to greater population density and HT found that to be true to some extent. The highest death rate for a million people during the entire Covid period and also during April-May was of Goa followed by Delhi, Puducherry, Maharashtra, Chandigarh and Uttarakhand, showed the analysis of the NCDC’s death data with 2021 Census population projection.

“We are reporting all the deaths because our surveillance is stringent and our machinery is robust. Not just Covid, we are topping deaths due to Swine Flu. This is nothing to be proud of but shows that we report all deaths. This year we have reported around 80,000 deaths due to Covid-19,” said Maharashtra surveillance officer Dr Pradeep Awate.

Delhi health minister Shri Satyendar Jain, said: “While we understand the gravity of the situation, it is also important to understand that the data presented by the Delhi government has been completely transparent at all points, even if it gave others the opportunity to take jibes at us.” Karnataka health minister K Sudhakar said despite the spurt in Covid cases the state was able to save a lot of lives because of adequate health facilities.

Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya, in a written reply in Rajya Sabha on July 20, said that health was a state subject and the Central government has provided all help to the state governments. “Due to concerted actions of Central and state governments, the isolation bed capacity and ICU bed capacity which was merely 10,180 and 2,168 before the first lockdown as on 23rd March 2020 could be increased to more than 1.821 million isolation beds and 121,671 ICU beds as on 16th July 2021,” he said.

All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) director Randeep Guleria said the devastation of the second Covid wave should prepare people for the third wave, if new variants emerge. “As of now, there are no signs to indicate that the third wave would be as lethal as the second one,” he said.

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Wednesday, December 01, 2021