Coronavirus | Confusion over mismatch in Health Ministry, ICMR figures

On April 19, ICMR reported 17,615 positive individuals.

Updated - April 20, 2020 11:02 am IST

Published - April 19, 2020 11:33 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Members of “Team Drone Masters” carry their drones after spraying disinfectants in Ahmedabad on April 19, 2020.

Members of “Team Drone Masters” carry their drones after spraying disinfectants in Ahmedabad on April 19, 2020.

A day ahead of a possible relaxation in lockdown curbs, confusion reigned on the actual number of COVID-19 cases in the country registered on Saturday.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), which coordinates testing and is the central node of data regarding the daily infections, reported that 16,365 individuals had been confirmed positive. Of these 2,154 were confirmed on Saturday alone — the first time the daily case load breached the 2,000 mark.

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However, the Health Ministry, the point-Ministry for all information regarding COVID-19, reported only 14,792 cases and 957 new cases.

On Sunday, the ICMR reported that 17,615 individuals have been confirmed positive. However, the Ministry, which updates figures twice daily, continued to report the lagged figures. At the daily afternoon briefing, Joint Secretary in the Health Ministry Lav Agarwal updated this to 15,712. By Sunday evening, this had crept up to 16,115 but still fell short of the ICMR’s Saturday numbers.

The discrepancy has prompted several questions.

“Numbers of positive cases put out today by the States, by ICMR and by Ministry of Health are conflicting and confusing,” former Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram, tweeted.

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“I rely on the dashboard jointly hosted by M/Health and ICMR. The difference between the dashboard number and ICMR’s number for April 18 is an astonishing 1,573. Will the M/Health and ICMR reconcile their reports from the States and report a uniform number every day?” he asked.

Coronavirus | Chidambaram asks govt. to release uniform figures of positive cases

A lag between the numbers reported by the states, the health ministry and the ICMR has been a constant since March, particularly after the lockdown. The Health Ministry explains it as happening because it reported numbers only after breaking it up by State- and-district and getting ground-level confirmation. This process, Mr. Agrawal said, led to the “occasional lag”.

 

The ICMR has also increased the number of labs and widened the pool of people it is testing. As of April 18 (Saturday), there were 194 government or state-funded labs and 82 private labs. All labs have varying capacity in terms of their equipment and personnel trained at analysis and this has contributed to delays in communicating data, said officials in charge of testing labs.

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“The very act of sorting out samples can take upto four hours as not all of them are uniformly labelled. It can take upto 6 hours to process a batch (and the number per batch varies too) and generate reports and send. So fluctuations in daily numbers can also be because of processing times,” Rakesh Mishra, Director, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, told The Hindu .

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