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The Congress, the main opposition in Gujarat, has demanded an inquiry after a report in a Gujarati newspaper on Friday used data on the number of death certificates issued to claim that the state has seen almost 61,000 excess deaths between March 1 and May 10 compared to the same period last year.
Divya Bhaskar reported that local bodies issued 123,871 death certificates between March 1 and May 10, compared to 58,000 in the same period last year. The data was based on disclosures by municipal authorities in 33 districts and eight major cities, the paper reported. The report added that in the same period, death certificates issued by each of the 33 districts for Covid-19 fatalities came to 4,218.
The report, which highlights a possible under-reporting of Covid-19 deaths is similar to excess-deaths studies conducted in many parts of the world that showed a rise in accounted deaths during the pandemic.
On Friday, Gujarat reported 9,995 new Covid-19 cases and 104 deaths from the infection in the last 24 hours, taking the state’s tally and toll to 735,348 and 8,944 respectively.
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There have been several reports in local Gujarati newspapers about deaths due to Covid being higher than the official figures in several regions. Many of these were based on figures from cremation grounds in the state.
State government officials said they were looking into the Divya Bhaskar report, but chief minister Vijay Rupani has previously denied hiding Covid-19 deaths. “The Covid deaths are being recorded as per ICMR guidelines. If a comorbid person dies, there is a committee of experts that decides the primary and secondary causes of death. If it, for instance, finds that the main reason for death was heart attack then such a person may not be counted among the Covid-19 deaths even if he is positive. This system is followed across the country,” he had said.
On Friday, Congress’s leader of Opposition Paresh Dhanani demanded an inquiry into the alleged under-reporting of Covid-19 deaths. “The state government should own up responsibility for the high number of deaths and initiate action against officials who have fudged data,” Dhanani said. Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi asked for criminal action against officials responsible.
Deputy chief minister Nitin Patel, who also holds the health portfolio and has just recovered from Covid-19, did not respond to several calls and text messages. Principal secretary (health) Jayanti Ravi said she was in a meeting and would speak later. She didn’t take calls later. Office of Gujarat health commissioner, Jaiprakash Shivhare, said he was in meetings. The state BJP office-bearer refused to comment.
Dr Chandresh Jardosh, outgoing president of the Indian Medical Association’s Gujarat chapter, however, said that the mismatch is because the state health department deliberately does not include patients with comorbidities in official data. “So, you must have pure Covid-19 without any frills to become an official statistic. I may not die of diabetes despite carrying it with me for 15 years, but my death will be considered a diabetic’s death and Covid becomes incidental,” he said. According to Dilip Mavalankar, director of the Gandhinagar-based Indian Institute of Public Health, “There are guidelines in public health manuals about how to classify a death. If a patient is comorbid but if the situation is aggravated by Covid-19 and dies, it is a Covid death.”