Highest mortality, low testing: Central team’s note to Bengal as it leaves state

By: |
May 05, 2020 4:25 AM

While praising the state on some counts, including increasing daily testing from 400 to 2,410 per day between April 20 and May 2, it also flagged the non-cooperation of the state bureaucracy.

Headed by Ministry of Defence Additional Secretary Apurva Chandra, the team completed its two-week tour of West Bengal on Monday, sending the above as “Final Observations of the IMCT” in a letter addressed to the Chief Secretary. (ANI File image)Headed by Ministry of Defence Additional Secretary Apurva Chandra, the team completed its two-week tour of West Bengal on Monday, sending the above as “Final Observations of the IMCT” in a letter addressed to the Chief Secretary. (ANI File image)

The Inter-Ministerial Central Team that visited Kolkata, Howrah and certain other districts in West Bengal, to check its coronavirus preparation, has said that at 12.8, the state has the highest mortality rate among Covid-19 patients in the country, and accused it of low testing and weak surveillance.

Headed by Ministry of Defence Additional Secretary Apurva Chandra, the team completed its two-week tour of West Bengal on Monday, sending the above as “Final Observations of the IMCT” in a letter addressed to the Chief Secretary.

While praising the state on some counts, including increasing daily testing from 400 to 2,410 per day between April 20 and May 2, it also flagged the non-cooperation of the state bureaucracy. Yet to submit its final report to the Centre, it urged the state to take its suggestions “in the right spirit”.

In his letter, Chandra said, “The IMCT notes that the state government has on 30.04.2020 made a pronouncement that henceforth all death of Covid patients would be indicated in the daily statistics and the death certificate would be issued by hospitals with the Committee of Doctors examining random samples. This is a big step towards transparency. At the same time, it raises the total death count of Covid patients in the state to 105 on 30.04.2020. For a total reported number of 816 Covid patients, the mortality rate of 12.8 per cent is by far the highest in the country. This extremely high mortality rate is a clear indication of low testing and weak surveillance and tracking.”

The letter also alleged discrepancy in various Covid-related data released by the state government. It said that in one instance the state’s medical bulletin put the total patients at 744 but on the same day gave the figure of 931 in a communication to the Union Ministry of Health.

“The state needs to be transparent and consistent in reporting Covid figures and not downplay the spread of the virus. The bulletins of 1st and 2nd May do not even mention the total number of cases and deaths in the state,” the letter says.

It said that while the state has claimed very high level of daily surveillance, no database was shared with the IMCT. During the stay of the team, for example, 50 lakh people would have been surveyed in the four districts which it visited and the collation of such data would require a robust system. “However, no such evidence was available during our stay or field visits,” the letter said.

It also accused the state of non-cooperation, saying it was not given access to officials, barring the Principal Secretary, Health. “In short, the state has taken an antagonistic view of the IMCT, and has not supported the IMCT in performing its duties. This contradiccts with the experience of the IMCTs in other states.”
The Centre had constituted 10 IMCTs to tour certain districts in states such as West Bengal, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. The teams — which the Centre said had to be constituted because there were “routine violation of lockdown guidelines” in these states — were supposed to make on-the-spot assessment of the situation, suggest redress to the states and send a report to the Centre.

West Bengal had called the move “against the spirit of federalism” and there were multiple reports of bureaucratic and political clashes between the Centre and the state over it.

While Gujarat has among the worst-affected cities in the country, Ahmedabad and Surat, the IMCT that visited the state said its government was alert and proactive in containing the corona outbreak.

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