Delhi govt was first under-counting Covid deaths. Now, it is over-counting

Kejriwal govt’s daily health bulletins between 15 and 21 May counted more deaths each day than the corresponding tally from Delhi’s municipal corporations.

Seemapuri crematorium in Delhi expanded amid a surge in Covid-19 deaths | Reeti Agarwal | ThePrint
Seemapuri crematorium in Delhi expanded amid a surge in Covid-19 deaths | Reeti Agarwal | ThePrint

New Delhi: All this while, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s Delhi government was being accused of under-counting Covid-19 deaths in the national capital.

But the story seems to have turned on its head. The government now appears to be making up with an over-count in the daily death tally.

According to data accessed by ThePrint, the Delhi government’s daily health bulletins between 15 and 21 May counted more deaths each day than the corresponding tally from Delhi’s three municipal corporations, which manage the crematoriums and burial grounds.

Data collated by the corporations from all Covid-designated crematoriums and burial grounds on 15 May showed 308 deaths even as the government tally was 337 — difference of 29 (9 per cent). A day later, the difference stood at 86 deaths.

Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur/ThePrint
Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur/ThePrint
Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur/ThePrint

This assumes significance in view of reports on under-counting of deaths in the national capital since the pandemic began last year, and more so amid the deadlier second wave that started last month.

In late April and early this month, several crematoriums and burial grounds ran out of space to cremate or bury bodies. Moreover, new temporary crematoriums had to be set up, besides the use of parking spaces.

The latest discrepancy has again raised questions about the authenticity of Covid-related data in Delhi.

“This discrepancy can mean only two things: that either the bodies are not being cremated, or that Delhi government is now making up for the deaths that weren’t reported earlier i.e. the underreporting of deaths from the earlier months,” said a chief district medical officer (CDMO) in the a municipal corporation, who has been involved in the collation of Covid deaths since April 2020.

“Where will bodies go if they aren’t cremated because a dead body eventually has to come to crematoriums or burial grounds. So if at a stretch the government has been mentioning higher figures than those at burial grounds and crematoriums, it shows deaths aren’t being reported accurately in the bulletin,” said the official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Asked about this discrepancy, Nutan Mundeja, Director General Health Service, Delhi government, said: “One of the major factors in the data discrepancy (now) is due to the busy schedule… Hospitals have delayed sending us their updated data.”https://0e1d528c6e1d6c3a1e87ba03f361a2bf.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

“They are busy identifying patients who might have died last week or maybe sometime after getting discharged from the hospital. And likewise, they send us the figures, which reflect in our official bulletin,” she added.

Mundeja said these could be deaths that occurred before but had not been reported on time.

What the municipal corporations say

The discrepancy is also getting caught in the politics of the city-state, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-controlled municipal corporations blaming the ruling Aam Aadmi Party for the mismatch.

“We should no longer be surprised as the Delhi government hasn’t been transparent with its figures (on) the deaths from day one,” North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) mayor Jai Prakash.

“This (latest gap) clearly shows they are making up for all the under-reported deaths from earlier and adjusting them in the daily count of deaths in government toll now,” he added.

Ground staff says workload has fallen

ThePrint spoke to ambulance drivers and officials in-charge at local cemeteries, burial grounds and crematoriums to understand if the daily cremations/burials load had fallen over the last few days.

Kabir, a 65-year-old ambulance driver, who earlier used to run an ambulance service for free, said: “There is a big difference as earlier bodies used to keep lying in my ambulance as we wouldn’t find space so I would go from one hospital to cremation ground to another cremation ground and sometimes a body would lie in my ambulance all night.”

“But this hasn’t happened in a fortnight now and I only get calls for four or five bodies in a day and thankfully whichever ground I’ve taken the body to, we have found space,” he added.

Awdesh Sharma, who is in-charge of three burial grounds in NDMC, also confirmed that the daily burden has reduced lately.

Source: Delhi govt was first under-counting Covid deaths. Now, it is over-counting (theprint.in)

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