A story published by Gujarati newspaper Divya Bhaskar on Friday revealed the extent of underreporting of Covid-19 deaths by the state government amid the devastating second wave of the pandemic.
The report, translated into English by journalist Deepak Patel on Twitter, said that Gujarat had issued 1.23 lakh death certificates between March 1 and May 10, compared to 58,000 certificates issued in the same period last year.
This showed that the government issued 65,000 more death certificates in the March 1 to May 10 period this year. However, Gujarat government data showed that only 4,218 patients had died of Covid-19 during that time, according to Divya Bhaskar.
Aashish Gupta, a PhD candidate at the Population Studies Center at the University of Pennsylvania, used the data reported by Divya Bhaskar to calculate the excess deaths in Gujarat, based on 2015-2018 mortality data and estimates of the state’s 2021 population. Since death registration in 2020 was affected by the lockdown, Gupta took into account longer term data.
According to his calculations, the excess mortality in the 71 days from March 1 to May 10 in Gujarat was ten times the official Covid-19 death numbers reported by the state.
Drawing from the report of Divya Bhaskar, journalist Deepak Patel highlighted district-wise numbers of death certificates issued in the March 1 to May 10 period in 2021, which were much higher than the official Covid-19 toll.
“Ahmedabad city issued 7,786 death certificates in the 71-day period last year,” Patel wrote. “It issued 13,593 death certificates in the 71-day period of 2021. Note: Gujarat government’s data says 2,126 people died of Covid in Ahmedabad city in the 71-day period of 2021.”
In Rajkot, 10,878 death certificates were issued in the 71-day period in 2021. However, according to government data, only 288 died due to the coronavirus during that time, Divya Bhaskar reported.
“Surat city issued 2,769 death certificates in the 71-day period last year,” Patel added. “It issued 8,851 death certificates in the same time period this year. Note: Guj govt’s data says 1,074 people died of Covid in Surat city in the 71-day period this year.”
In Vadodara, 7,722 death certificates were issued during March 1 to May 10 period in 2021, compared to 2,373 in 2020. However, the government noted only 189 Covid deaths in that period.
Similarly, Patel noted the numbers for Bhavnagar, Mehsana, Rural Jamnagar, Amreli and Navasri.
The media in Gujarat has been consistently demanding accountability from the state government amid the escalating health crisis. Journalists have raised concerns about the official Covid-19 data and shortages of hospital beds, oxygen and medicines in the state.
In April, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani had denied that the state government was concealing the actual number of Covid-19 deaths, reported PTI.
“As per the guidelines of the ICMR, if a comorbid patient dies then a committee of experts decides the primary and secondary causes of such death,” he had said. “If that committee identifies the main cause of the death as a heart attack then even though the patient was infected, such death is not counted as caused by coronavirus. The same system is followed in the entire country.”
This, however, is incorrect as the ICMR guidelines make it clear that even if a Covid positive person dies without symptoms of the disease, the death should be recorded as a Covid-19 death under U07.1, World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) code.
According to government figures, Gujarat reported 10,742 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, taking the tally of infections to 7,25,353 since the pandemic broke out in January last year. The state’s toll rose by 109 to 8,840.
India has been battling a severe second wave of the coronavirus, with hospitals across the country struggling with acute shortages of oxygen, beds and medical supplies.
The country reported more than 3 lakh cases a day every day for three weeks, since April 22. On May 1, it hit a new record by crossing the 4-lakh mark, the highest single-day tally by any country in the world. This was surpassed on May 7, when India recorded 4.14 lakh daily cases. Thousands have died every day, but reports allege that the government is severely undercounting Covid-19 deaths.
This article was updated on May 16 to include researcher Aashish Gupta’s calculations of excess mortality in Gujarat.