A discrepancy noticed in the deaths of Covid-19 patients reported by one Mumbai hospital in the first week of June was the trigger for massive data reconciliation exercise in the city that has found so far that 862 fatalities went unreported in the last couple of months.
"In the first week of June, a Mumbai hospital reported 17 deaths, whereas only one death had happened there that day. This sent alarm bells ringing in the administration. If one hospital had not yet disclosed its total Covid-19 deaths, what about the other hospitals?" a senior IAS officer of Maharashtra government told CNN News18 on condition of anonymity.
He said the data has been cleaned now. "There is no reason for us to hide (the deaths). We want to be 100 per cent transparent," he added.
The revision in the death figures has come days after the opposition parties claimed that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation was deliberately under-reported deaths in Mumbai, but the civic body maintains that it was the first one to notice the data discrepancy.
"The political parties started talking about it three, four days ago. We realised it as early as on June 1," a senior BMC official claimed. The BMC has added 862 deaths due to reconciliation, taking the total number of deaths in the city to 3165.
The rest of the state has found 466 more deaths for a total of at least 1,328 deaths of Covid-19 positive patients that went unreported earlier. The reconciliation process is long drawn-out, and will continue for the 1.10 lakh cases Maharashtra has recorded.
Speaking to CNN-News18, Mumbai’s municipal commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal said most of these deaths had taken place in March and April.
“The BMC did not have this data available with it then. So there is no question of hiding it. These deaths had taken place in many big and small hospitals of Mumbai. When we realised in the first week of June that hospitals had not shared all the details, we asked them to submit the data,” he said.
He said the BMC issued an order on June 8 to all the hospitals, asking them to come clean on all deaths. "They were told to submit all the pending data within 24 hours, or face action under the Epidemic Act," he said.
The hospitals thereafter reported close to 1,000 deaths, he said. "The data reconciliation exercise went on for over a week," he added. Meanwhile, the Maharashtra government issued an order on 11 June, asking district administrations and municipal corporations, to undertake data reconciliation exercise.
The state’s chief secretary Ajoy Mehta said the reasons behind the data discrepancy was that earlier deaths were being updated manually, and this left gaps in the system.
"Initially, there were only two labs. Today, we have 90. Earlier, the data used to be noted manually. Now, it is being entered electronically. There were many platforms on which it was put, now it is only one platform. For all these reasons, there were discrepancies," he said.
When asked as to why the BMC did not think of this lapse earlier, and why data was not reported earlier, a senior BMC official said, "Maybe because we didn't have the experience to handle such a pandemic. Neither the BMC, nor any hospitals, had seen anything of this magnitude previously."