Was Vizag’s COVID-19 toll under-reported?

Officials attribute the mismatch to the methodology adopted in recording death

Updated - July 07, 2021 11:50 am IST

Published - July 07, 2021 12:01 am IST - VISAKHAPATNAM

The team of Vizag Volunteers in PPE suits to spread awareness on maintaining social distancing and wearing masks in public places. File photo

The team of Vizag Volunteers in PPE suits to spread awareness on maintaining social distancing and wearing masks in public places. File photo

All along the second wave of COVID-19, which had reached its peak during the months of April and May this year, there were unconfirmed reports that the death toll was much higher than the figures given in the bulletin issued by the State, or the district administration.

While the official figures give a picture of moderate death count, the death certificates issued by the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation (GVMC) tell a different story.

The GVMC records indicate that the death count may be about four times higher than the official count, especially in the month of May, when the average death count of the previous years are taken into consideration.

Increase in fatalities

In 2019, a year before the pandemic, the total number of deaths recorded under the 98 wards of the GVMC limits was 12,535 (January to December). In 2020, when the city was hit by the first wave of the pandemic, the total number of deaths recorded was 15,454. The increase in the number fatalities was 2,919.

This can be considered a bit abnormal, considering the first wave of the pandemic prevalent in 2020.

The number of deaths due to COVID-19 recorded till December 31, 2020, was 522.

The city, therefore, saw 2,400 more deaths by the end of 2020, which were probably categorised as natural, or under other heads.

Huge disparity

The margin of abnormality increased in 2021.

Till May 31, the GVMC had recorded 8,825 deaths, including 4,306 in the May alone and 1,352 in April. And these were categorised as natural, unnatural, and COVID-19.

The second wave of the pandemic had swept the city during both these months.

The abnormality in the count stands out if we compare it with the number of deaths recorded during the corresponding months in 2019 and 2020.

But, as per the official figures, the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 in the district in the month of April was about 57 and 299 in May.

The number of infections recorded was close to 16,400 in April and 58,000 in May.

On an average, even if 800 to 900 is taken as the number of deaths under the GVMC limits per month, the figures in April and May are on the higher side, indicating that the toll is at least four times more than that stated.

But there is no scientific data to prove that the excess deaths are due to COVID-19.

Doctors’ version

Doctors who had treated the COVID-19 patients say that the toll was higher than stated, and that the highest number of deaths recorded in the CSR block of KGH on a particular day in the month of May was 35, when the official count in the district never crossed 12 or 13, even during the peak of the second wave.

However, officials say that the discrepancy in the figures is due to the methodology adopted in recording the COVID-19 deaths.

A death was considered as due to COVID-19 only if the patient was certified positive through the Rt-PCR test and the result was uploaded in the ICMR website.

The death of patients who had tested positive through CT scans or rapid antigen test, and whose reports were not included in the ICMR data, was not recorded under COVID-19.

‘False negatives’

The other reason attributed to the discrepancy is that about 30% of the Rt- PCR and 40% of the rapid antigen tests are ‘false negative’.

A senior doctor from the KGH also said that many patients who had succumbed to COVID-19 had reached the hospitals very late without getting tested. These also did not reflect as COVID-19 deaths, he said.

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