The Tamil Nadu government on Wednesday said that a committee has been constituted to investigate the discrepancies in coronavirus deaths in Chennai, PTI reported. This came after an inspection done by the state’s Department of Public Health revealed that the Greater Chennai Corporation had recorded at least 236 more Covid-19 deaths in comparison to the state register till Monday, according to The Times of India.
If the figures from the civic body registry are added to the official toll, it would double Tamil Nadu’s coronavirus fatality rate from 0.7% to 1.5%, the newspaper reported. So far, the state has reported 326 deaths till Wednesday. Of these, Chennai accounts for 260 deaths.
A nine-member committee will now audit all the coronavirus related deaths in Chennai. Officials in the state blamed the difference in figures on a “procedural lapse” as there was no system to report deaths recorded in the Chennai civic authority’s registry to the government on a daily basis, The Indian Express reported.
Health Secretary Beela Rajesh denied allegations that the state government had deliberately “fudged” numbers to show less deaths. “We don’t have to hide the death data, we cannot do that,” she added. “We have been accurately reporting all Covid-19 deaths as reported from hospitals in the public and private sector. Following latest reports that there were several deaths that were not reported, we have formed this committee to assess all these alleged Covid-19 deaths in city limits.”
Rajesh said the government is yet to identify the number of deaths that were not added in the final toll. “Even if we have an efficient system to collect data from all hospitals including medical colleges and private hospitals about Covid-19 deaths, the system on the ground has had no practice of reporting deaths on a daily basis before the Covid outbreak,” she said. “We suspect that these alleged deaths were cases such as home deaths or those that happened at private clinics, etc.”
An unidentified corporation official told the newspaper that mismatch in data occurred due to a staff crunch and the additional workload of managing over 1,000 containment zones. “After the outbreak started, there were delays in compiling this data,” the official added.
The Director of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Dr P Vadivelan, has issued an order that from now on, all coronavirus deaths in the Chennai Corporation has to be notified, on a daily basis, to the directorate by identified officials, such as the city health officer, and all death reports must be scrutinised by the committee. Vadivelan, also the head of the reconciliation committee, said the panel will investigate each and every death.
According to the protocol, hospitals are required to report Covid-19 deaths to the state and city health departments. While hospitals have been submitting this number to Greater Chennai Corporation, the body responsible for giving death certificates, these numbers have not been added to the Department of Public Health’s registry.
Meanwhile, Chennai-based anti-corruption initiative, Arappor Iyakkam, complained to the health secretary that three deaths in a government medical college were also not in the state’s final toll. “Government medical colleges report directly to the health department,” Jayaraman Venkatesan of Arappor Iyakkam said. “Even if the department is blaming the city corporation for not reporting about 200 Covid deaths, how did they miss the deaths in a government medical college?”