A total of 444 deaths were added to Chennai’s COVID-19 toll on Wednesday, based on the recommendations of a Death Reconciliation Committee. The development came on a day Tamil Nadu witnessed its highest single-day spike in cases, with 5,849 persons testing positive for the infection.
With the inclusion of the 444 deaths, the city’s toll increased to 1,939, while the State’s figure rose to 3,144.
According to the Health Department’s bulletin, the details of the deaths of COVID-19 patients in the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) since March 1 were collected and compiled by the Directorate of Medical Education for medical college hospitals, and the Directorate of Medical and Rural Health Services for its own institutions and private hospitals.
As per the guidelines of the Indian Council of Medical Research, all deaths of COVID-19 patients are to be declared as COVID-19 deaths, irrespective of the underlying or antecedent cause of death. In line with these guidelines, the committee was constituted to reconcile COVID-19 deaths by comparing the details of deaths obtained from hospitals with those obtained from burial grounds.
The Directorate of Public Health and Preventive Medicine had constituted the committee, headed by P. Vadivelan, director of public health and preventive medicine (officer on special duty).
Health Secretary J. Radhakrishnan said there were Central government guidelines — Guidance for appropriate recording of COVID-19 deaths. “On this basis, the committee was formed to look into the differences in the number of deaths reported by 102 hospitals in Chennai and the COVID-19 deaths recorded in the burial grounds of GCC. Initially, 530 such deaths were brought up. The committee expanded the scope of its assignment and took into account all deaths recorded from March to mid-July. Of these, 444 deaths were identified. Though doctors were of the view that these deaths were due to underlying co-morbid conditions and not due to COVID-19, the government has decided to record all 444 deaths as COVID-19 deaths based on the Centre’s guidelines,” he said.
He added that as per the guidelines of the World Health Organisation and the Union government, with COVID-19 being a new disease, if a person who tests positive dies, any other underlying cause of death, like cardiac arrest, breast cancer or leukaemia, or any death before being tested, was to be considered a COVID-19 death.
“This was not the case in Tamil Nadu alone. Similar exercises to reconcile death data were done in Maharashtra and Delhi. In Maharashtra, 1,382 deaths were reconciled, and in Delhi 344,” he pointed out.
“The deaths were not left out on purpose. These were counted as deaths due to underlying causes with incidental COVID-19. We need a permanent solution. The Chief Minister has instructed that such a reconciliation exercise should be done on a weekly basis. Accordingly, a team headed by the DMS, along with the Directors of Medical Education and Public Health and Preventive Medicine and health officials of GCC, will check if any deaths were left out, every week,” he said.