Kerala now second in Covid death toll, trails Maharashtra

Express News Service

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Kerala has surpassed its neighbouring states to become the second in the country in terms of Covid deaths. A low case fatality ratio (CFR — the ratio of deaths among the total positive cases detected) of around 0.4% was the hallmark of the Kerala model of Covid management.

But it suffered a beating after the state started adding deaths previously not included in the official death list, since October. The steady climb of CFR to 0.74% on Wednesday saw the state (38,353 deaths) surpass Karnataka (38,185) and Tamil Nadu (36,415). Kerala is far behind Maharashtra which has so far recorded 1.41 lakh deaths. But the state is unlikely to be replaced by the neighbouring states soon. 

When Karnataka and Tamil Nadu added 3 and 14 new deaths on Wednesday, Kerala added 308. The state reported 384 deaths on Thursday, taking the total toll to 38,737. The troubles before the state are manifold as it continues to report the highest daily death count along with the addition of deaths previously not accounted for. 

The reconciliation efforts made by the government in setting right the underreporting of deaths have revealed the true picture of the Covid casualties, even when the health activists accuse the government of distorting the records. As many as 9,598 deaths have been added in this manner since October 22. 

Reconciliation of deaths reveals inadequacies

The Union health ministry was highly critical of the extent of backlog deaths that questions the reporting standards as well as the claims made by the state. “Kerala has always claimed that its clinical management for Covid has been very good and hence one of the lowest number of deaths is being reported from the state. It is shocking to highlight that for the last three months, in the name of reporting backlog deaths, a larger number of deaths are being reported by Kerala,” the latest death analysis report by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare observed.

“The recent reconciliation of deaths in the state reveals inadequacies in the recording and reporting mechanism. Apart from the deaths being added after appeal by the public, the deaths being added to the cumulative death toll also include the backlog of unreported cases during the period between March 2020 and June 2021 which is a cause for concern. This has brought to the fore the gap in the effective implementation of containment strategy in the past few months coupled with belying the claims made by state with respect to managing deaths due to Covid,” the report said.

The Kerala model had won praise when the state successfully flattened the curve, with all patients getting treatment without overwhelming the health system. However, health experts have been critical of the opaque manner of death declaration. Dr N M Arun, a public health activist who championed for better transparency in Covid death reporting, said the methods adopted by the health department are still not fully transparent. “While it is a positive aspect that the state has made the reconciliation effort, the extent of death toll could put the government in a defensive mode.

They could even stop reporting appeals on a daily basis. There are not many details available on the pending deaths added. Information such as date of death, age, sex, comorbidity and vaccination status of the dead are required to study the impact of Covid,” he said. The health department has stopped the pending deaths declaration of the cases up to June 18, 2021 (offline period of death reporting) when 3,779 deaths were reported in the category. It still has to process 15,405 appeals and the result could further increase in toll. Resolution of all these appeals will soon take the state’s death toll beyond 50,000.

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