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Mismatch in COVID-19 death numbers: 451 misplaced deaths in Mumbai, BMC updating records

BMC, COVID-19, Data, Brihanmumbai Mahanagar Palika, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, Mumbai, Uddhav Thackeray
Image Courtesy: PTI

Till Monday, Mumbai had 59,293 cases and 2,250 deaths of Maharashtra’s total of 1.10 lakh cases and 4,128 deaths. BMC data show eight other Covid-19 patients died of some other illness. Health officials said the “discrepancy” came up during an exercise to match Covid-19 figures of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) portal with the Maharashtra governments. The exercise, which spanned several days, ended on June 6. It analyzed each case, removed duplication and updated patient details for those recovered, still infected and those who had succumbed to the infection. On June 10, each district was informed if there was a mismatch in figures, and the next day, state Health Secretary Dr Pradeep Vyas wrote to all to submit the updated data, with the deadline 5 pm, Monday (June 15). “Any data mismatch brought to notice subsequently would be viewed very seriously,” the notification stated.

“We found that 451 patients in Mumbai had no update,” a state health official said, adding, “Further inquiry found these patients had died but were not included in the official Covid count.”

BMC has told the state government that three of the 451 had actually died due to unnatural causes (suicide or accident), and that 20 other names were duplication in data. At least 451 deaths of Covid-19 patients in Mumbai were not reported by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), a massive data reconciliation exercise by Maharashtra government has shown. Officials also said that over the last week, the BMC had reported 57 of the 451 deaths in a staggered manner. Sources said this was done after top state officials asked the BMC to “come clean” at a meeting last week. That meant the reporting of 371 deaths remains pending now, officials said.

According to ICMR guidelines, the death of any coronavirus patient has to be notified as Covid death unless the patient has terminal illness, or dies due to poisoning, accident or suicide.

“We are trying our level best to be accurate on the cases and death numbers. Once the entire audit is over, the data will be inspected and official cases will be updated.” Said Maharashtra Chief Secretary Ajoy Mehta, Mehta added that they will investigate why there was a difference in figures. “If it is human error, it is alright, but if there was mala fide intention, we would be taking action.”

State epidemiologist Dr Pradeep Awate said the gap in Mumbai deaths can be possibly due to human mistake in reporting” the statistics. In May, the Centre introduced a central online portal called CV Analytics. All laboratories and district officials were asked to enter data into that portal. Officials said the data discrepancy emerged through this portal. Figures provided by laboratories differed from those updated by the BMC. In several cases, there was incomplete information on patients in Mumbai on the portal. In March when the pandemic began, districts were supposed to manually feed data and report each case and death to the state government. Awate added, “Mumbai and Maharashtra are recording thousands of cases. It is not easy to maintain updated data.”

The BMC’s staggered updating to include the missing deaths is reflected in its numbers the past few days. On June 13, for instance, the toll put out by the civic body included 19 deaths that had occurred between May 27 and June 10.

The number on June 12 too included some deaths that had taken place between May 20 and June 9. Requesting anonymity, a civic official said “reporting all deaths at once may trigger panic” and hence a decision was taken to include a few of the unaccounted numbers every day.

On Monday, Leader of the Opposition Devendra Fadnavis wrote to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray raising concern over the “unreported deaths” in Mumbai. He claimed around 500 Covid deaths across hospitals in Mumbai were yet to be referred to the death audit committee.

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