The Tamil Nadu government has ordered for a Covid-19 death audit report amid several allegations over the credibility of the government’s official coronavirus death count in Chennai. This decision was taken after it came to the government's cognisance that “not less than” 200 deaths suspected to be linked to the coronavirus failed to be registered to the official toll of the state.
The estimate is based on a “preliminary assessment” of the Chennai Corporation’s records, a senior health official told The Indian Express. Till Wednesday evening, the state had reported 326 deaths due to coronavirus, including 260 within Chennai city only.
According to officials, the “mismatch” is on a “procedural lapse” since there was no procedure of reporting fatalities recorded in the Chennai corporation’s registry to the government on a day-to-day basis.
Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu Health Secretary Beela Rajesh disagreed with the allegations that the state government had hide the number of Covid-19 deaths to report a lesser toll and said, “A nine-member reconciliation committee to streamline Covid-19 deaths data will look into all such cases”.
She said that a committee has been formed to assess all the deaths suspected to be linked with the infection in Chennai city. “We don’t have to hide the death data, we cannot do that. 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,” The Indian Express quoted her as saying.
The state health secretary informed that the government has not established the number of deaths that did not registered to the official toll as the committee formed was “still collecting data”.
“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. We suspect that these alleged deaths were cases such as home deaths or those that happened at private clinics, etc.,” she continued.
Speaking to The Indian Express, a corporation official said that “there were lapses” in updating the Chennai’s death and birth registry regularly due to a shortage of manpower, and the additional workload of managing the lockdown protocols and over 1,000 containment zones. “After the outbreak began, there were delays in compiling this data. Probably, this led to the mismatch,” the official said.
Taking cognisance into the alleged “discrepancy” in maintaining death toll record in Chennai, the Director of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Dr P Vadivelan, has issued an order which says that “from now on, all the Covid-19 deaths of Chennai Corporation has to be notified on a daily basis”. Vadivelan, who is also heading the reconciliation committee, also ordered the panel “will look into each and every death”.
Moreover, a Chennai-based anti-corruption initiative, Arappor Iyakkam, has filed a written complaint to the Health Secretary, claiming that three coronavirus deaths in a government medical college were not added to the state’s official toll.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Jayaraman Venkatesan of Arappor Iyakkam explained, “Government medical colleges report directly to the Health Department. 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?”
As per the media report, more than 20 deaths at a Southern Railway hospital at Perambur in Chennai, also, have allegedly not registered in the official death data of the state. However, officials at the hospital claimed they had reported the fatalities to the corporation.