Covid-19: Bihar data on migrants suggest large under-reporting by states

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Published: May 26, 2020 4:15 AM

Results on tests conducted for migrants by Bihar — tweeted by the former health secretary and retweeted by the state’s health department — for May 18, show that states may be under-reporting their figures by 2-3 times.

there is data to suggest that the number of positive cases may be far more than what various state governments are reporting.There is data to suggest that the number of positive cases may be far more than what various state governments are reporting.

It always seemed far-fetched that a city like Delhi or a state like West Bengal has been able to keep infections in check when they were galloping in Maharashtra and its capital, Mumbai. But now there is data to suggest that the number of positive cases may be far more than what various state governments are reporting.

Results on tests conducted for migrants by Bihar — tweeted by the former health secretary and retweeted by the state’s health department — for May 18, show that states may be under-reporting their figures by 2-3 times. Migrants returning from Delhi, for instance, showed a 26% infection rate on May 18, whereas Delhi reflected a daily infection rate of 6.9% during the third lockdown till May 17.

This newspaper has earlier reported that the state has, in any case, been reporting two sets of numbers; one to the Delhi High Court and one to the public. As per the data given to the HC, Delhi’s infection levels are 21%; the state was consistently over-reporting the number of tests between May 6 and May 15 and that allowed it to show lower infection levels to the lay public.

Similarly, while West Bengal was the second-most infected region with an infection level of 12% in migrants that returned to Bihar, the state-reported infection levels were nearly 10 percentage points lower at 2.9%.

Not all states were on the wrong side though. For migrants returning to Bihar from Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, infection levels were more in line with the state’s infection numbers. Migrants from Maharashtra had an 11% infection rate, while the state reported a daily infection level that was not too different at 13.3%. Gujarat’s reported infection was 9.7% and Tamil Nadu’s was 4.5%, whereas 7% and 4% migrants from the states were positive. UP was no different, with only a slight variation of 0.6%.

Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, on the other hand, had widely varying data with the state-reported infection levels coming in much lower than the figures that were got by looking at infections from the migrants. Haryana had 9% migrants testing positive and Chhattisgarh had 6%, whereas infection levels reported by the states were only 1.2% and 0.6%, respectively.

Earlier, this week a blog on Centre for Policy Research had stated variance between ICMR data and MoHFW figures. While states certainly need to test more to get an actual picture, ICMR needs to put more data in the public domain for people to examine and study trends. On Monday, India’s daily infection levels had reached 7,000 despite the country being under lockdown since March 25.

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