Coronavirus | Chandigarh bucks ‘excess deaths’ trend

Fewer deaths in 2020, but second wave contributes to a sudden spurt

July 16, 2021 10:31 pm | Updated July 17, 2021 07:45 am IST - Chennai/ Chandigarh

A vendor donning PPE kit sells fruits and vegetables at a containment zone in Chandigarh. File

A vendor donning PPE kit sells fruits and vegetables at a containment zone in Chandigarh. File

Similar to the trend in Kerala, the total number of deaths registered by the Civil Registration System (CRS) in the Union Territory of Chandigarh in 2020 was lower than the average annual number of deaths in the pre-pandemic period. The total number of deaths registered between April 2020 and May 2021 — 22,149 was an estimated 1,781 to 4,705 deaths lower than averages registered in the pre-pandemic period (2015-2019 for the first estimate and 2018-19 for the higher one).

Data on deaths registered monthwise from January 2015 to May 2021 in Chandigarh were sourced by The Hindu via an RTI.

The lowered mortality held true for the city in 2021 till the second wave hit in the months of April and May, resulting in 2,002 and 2,114 deaths registered in the period. These numbers resulted in an estimated 1,023 excess deaths compared to the baseline mortality — average number of deaths for the two months in the years 2018 and 2019 and 1,310 excess deaths compared to the baseline mortality for the same months from 2015 to 2019.

The COVID19 death toll recorded in the UT in these two months was 374, amounting to an undercount factor ranging from 2.7 to 3.5. If instead of averages, excess deaths were calculated by extrapolating the annual number of deaths through a linear growth model, the undercount factor was even less at 1.1.

 

In sum, the officially registered COVID-19 deaths in the UT were not much lower than the “excess deaths” that we estimated using various methods. The pattern of deaths registered in Chandigarh was comparable to what was observed in Thiruvananthapuram municipal corporation as well. There too, there were fewer registered deaths in 2020, but numbers went up in 2021 after excess deaths were observed during the second wave.

According to the Annual Report on Vital Statistics of India based on CRS 2019, the estimated deaths in Chandigarh were only 5,091 based on the death rate estimated by the Sample Registration System (SRS). But the CRS registered more than 20,000 deaths every year since 2017, a number that fell to 18,370 in 2020. The discrepancy between the estimated number of deaths and the actual registered numbers is due to the fact that many of those who die come to the city’s medical facilities for treatment of various illnesses and ailments from neighbouring areas.

Dr V.K. Nagpal, Medical Superintendent at Government Multi Specialty Hospital (GMSH) in Chandigarh told The Hindu that there were fewer deaths during the first wave and especially during the lockdown months in comparison to the pre-COVID period. The reason, he said, was reduced vehicular traffic during the lockdowns that resulted in a drop in accident cases. “Hospitals in Chandigarh, especially Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) serve referral cases from neighbouring places including Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu-Kashmir. So, when the referral and emergency, mainly road accident cases dropped then naturally the death numbers would also decline,” he said.

Dr. Nagpal said as far as the estimates of SRS of the numbers of deaths is concerned it is based on the population of Chandigarh residents.

“If the number of [registered] deaths is above the estimate it’s because the large number of people from outside Chandigarh visit the city hospitals for treatment and some of them die due to ailments, illnesses etc.,” he said. “The assumption surrounding the deaths as per Sample Registration System is correct as it is based on the population and residents of Chandigarh only and not the neighbouring areas,” he added.

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