A wide variance between the cumulative COVID-19 test reports received and the sum of samples that tested positive and negative until April 30 in Madhya Pradesh, has raised questions about accuracy of data maintained by the State government. The difference between the two metrics has left at least 9,271 test results unaccounted.
Incidentaly, this figure is close to startlingly high number of 7,875 tests which the State government claims to have conducted on the same day (April 30). This stated number of tests is more than twice the highest number of tests reported earlier. . It also marks an unusual 23.27% jump in testing over the previous day, much beyond the State’s infrastructure.
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The spike in testing numbers helps buttress the claims of the embattled State government, under whose watch 5.2% of COVID-19 patients have died. Ujjain, with a fatality rate of 17% has overtaken every other city in country. However, even as the figures showed a wide discrepancy, Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan said the infection rate had reduced in the State, and the situation was improving.
On April 30, Madhya Pradesh had conducted 500.3 tests per million, up by around 100 counts over the previous day. In line with Mr. Chouhan’s claim, the number of positive samples among the tested ones continued a downward trend, settling at 6.3% on the day, according to the media bulletin.
“We are recompiling this figures. The Indian Council of Medical Research is not sharing the data with us real time. Their database is not available with us. And the data given in the bulletin is collected from laboratories. The laboratories are reporting more,” said a senior official of the State Health Department, requesting anonymity.
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The over-reporting in testing comes four days after 8,439 samples were shown in the daily bulletin as pending results. Thereafter, the government scrapped the ‘pending samples’ column altogether. Amulya Nidhi, of the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, believes this was done to avoid the media questions over the high numbers of pending test results.
“The government is manipulating data in varying ways since March 26,” Mr Nidhi alleged. “First, it stopped releasing the tally of rejected samples, and instead combined it with negative samples. Then a month later, it stopped revealing the number of samples collected and the pendency.”
The number of total sample test reports received is a sum of positive and negative samples tested. Since April 26, the tally of negative samples has not taken into account the rejected samples, said an official at the department. And since then, the difference between reports received and the sum has been growing. Starting with 1,344 on April 27, it has touched 9,271.
In two other recent instances, the government had similarly slashed its cumulative tally of samples which had tested negative. On April 27, the total samples tested until then dropped to 25,665, as 4,679 was subtracted from the tally of negative samples on the previous day. Similarly, 416 was removed on April 18 from the tally until the previous day, thereby dropping the testing count.
The bulletin, released every evening, does not take into account figures from Indore, the hardest-hit city where most cases and deaths have been reported. The city releases its figures late night, which are adjusted in the State tally the next day.
“As the situation in Indore turned worse, they stopped even revealing who died of COVID-19 and with what co-morbidities, in the city’s bulletin. From a comprehensive bulletine, Indore district administration has made it into a short single-page one,” said Anand Rai, part of the Indore COVID-19 combat team.
“The media and the public have a right to access data, and analyse it. It is not like the data is the intellectual property of the government. It must be transparently released so that others could study trends and help the fight to contain the virus’ spread,” said Dr. Rai.