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Delhi Govt, Municipal Corporations Are Fighting Over Covid Death Toll

The first reports on the problem with Delhi’s Covid-19 death toll began to appear in early May, when discrepancies arose between hospital numbers and the government's tally.
Representative image.
Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Representative image.

Amid several reports on discrepancies in Delhi’s Covid-19 death toll, three BJP-led municipal corporations on Thursday said that Delhi had over 2,000 deaths, almost double the government’s tally of 1,085.

The first reports on the problem with Delhi’s Covid-19 death toll began to appear in early May, when doctors of several designated Covid-19 centres said that the numbers from their hospitals did not match with those of the Delhi government.

The Delhi government has now set up an audit team to look into the issue, almost a month after the first reports on the discrepancies made headlines.

The situation in Delhi has been worsening over the past few weeks and it has reported 34,687 cases so far, the second highest in the country.

What is MCD saying?

PTI reported that at a press conference held on Thursday, North Delhi Mayor Avtar Singh, East Delhi Mayor Anju Kamalkant, and chairpersons of standing committee of NDMC, SDMC and EDMC shared the challenges faced by the corporations in the time of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Earlier also the Kejriwal government had reported less death when our tally from crematoria and burial sites had shown nearly three times of the official toll. And, now as per these figures, the number of deaths from COVID-19 in Delhi stands at 2,098 ― SDMC (1080), NDMC (976), EDMC (42),” claimed Jai Prakash, the chairman of Standing Commitee of the NDMC.

Delhi govt’s audit committee

After the revelations by the MCDs of Delhi, the Delhi government said that they have set up a Covid-19 death audit committee that would work impartially to assess the situation. The Arvind Kejriwal government said that the committee comprises senior doctors.

A statement from the Delhi government, quoted by PTI, said, “The Hon’ble Delhi High Court has also declared that the Death Audit Committee is working in an appropriate manner and that the work of the committee cannot be questioned.”

“We believe that not even a single life must be lost to Coronavirus. This is a time to unite and save the lives of the people. This is not the time to make allegations after allegations, we all have to fight this pandemic together and ensure that not a single life is lost due to coronavirus,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, Delhi’s health minister Satyendra Jain asked why the MCD had not shared the numbers with the government.

ANI quoted Jain as saying, “Why don’t they send those details to us? Names, age and reports... all details are needed. Ask them for a list of these numbers along with the positive reports of those people.”

Not the first allegations

On May 9, a report in the Hindustan Times had pointed out that at least two designated Covid-19 hospitals had said there was discrepancies in the death toll. On that day, Delhi had had 66 deaths according to government data of which 53 were listed from 10 Covid-19 hospitals and 13 from other hospitals, the report said.

While the Delhi bulletin had said two people had died in AIIMS, medical superintendent Dr DK Sharma told the newspaper, “There are 417 patients with Covid-19 admitted to the two centres right now, but since we opened up our centres for Covid-19 patients, we have treated a total of 707 people. And 14 people have died so far at both the centres.”

A similar difference in numbers appeared in tallies made at the Lok Manya Tilak Hospital as well.

On May 13 The Wire reported that by then, while the government was saying only 68 people had died, records showed 225 cremations had taken place following protocols of Covid-19 deaths at Nigambodh Ghat and Punjabi Bagh crematoriums.

The report said that 89 burials had been made at ITO following such protocols.

If all of this was added, the death toll stood at 314 as opposed to the 68 that the government mentioned.

No Covid-19 tests for those who have died

Yet another factor that could affect Delhi’s death toll count is the fact that on government orders, patients who had died are not being tested for the disease.

A report in the Hindustan Times quoted the order as saying, “No sample for Covid-19 test will be taken of a dead body. However, if doctors are satisfied from clinical examination that the cause of death may be Covid-19 infection, the dead body may be released as suspect Covid-19 infected dead body.”

This violated WHO guidelines. The guidelines say:

“A death due to COVID-19 is defined for surveillance purposes as a death resulting from a clinically compatible illness, in a probable or confirmed COVID-19 case, unless there is a clear alternative cause of death that cannot be related to COVID disease (e.g. trauma). There should be no period of complete recovery from COVID-19 between illness and death.

A death due to COVID-19 may not be attributed to another disease (e.g. cancer) and should be counted independently of preexisting conditions that are suspected of triggering a severe course of COVID-19.”

Delhi not counting deaths of those with co-morbidities

Those who have co-morbid conditions like heart disease, diabetes or lung disease are said to be more at risk from Covid-19. The Delhi government said that only those cases where the primary cause of death is Covid-19 would be counted as a Covid-19 death.

This, again, was in violation of WHO and ICMR guidelines.

Hindustan Times quoted Dr Prashant Mathur, director of ICMR’s National Centre for Disease Informatics and Research, as saying, “If a patient is admitted to the hospital for Covid-19 and dies, their death would be considered as Covid-19 death.”

This was an issue with the death toll calculated by the West Bengal government too. But now they have included in their death toll the 72 deaths previously categorised under “co-morbid” deaths.

What the Delhi government has said so far

After multiple reports from various sources alleged a mismatch in Delhi’s death toll data, the Delhi government finally admitted a mismatch, but blamed it on hospitals.

On May 11, an order was issued by Delhi chief secretary Vijay Dev that Times of India quoted as saying, “It has come to notice that both public and private hospitals are not reporting deaths of positive cases occurring in their hospitals in a timely and regular manner… it has further been observed that despite repeated reminders, death summaries of deceased patients are not being provided to the death audit committee, resulting in incorrect/ delayed reports.”

On June 1, the AAP also issued a show-cause notice to the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, Ram Manohar Lohia, Safdarjung & Lok Nayak Jai Prakash hospitals — all run by the Central government — for not reporting deaths on time, reported The New Indian Express.

(With PTI inputs)

This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost India, which closed in 2020. Some features are no longer enabled. If you have questions or concerns about this article, please contact