Over the last few weeks, as COVID-19 cases in India soared to record highs, numerous reports have accused the states of under-reporting their case tally and death toll. John Burn-Murdoch of the Financial Times compiled data from seven districts using news reports to contend that the death toll was 10 times what was being reported. Others have put forth comparatively more modest estimates, citing obituaries in newspapers and so on.
"India reports another 400,000+ cases, 4000+ death day. A sustained level of horribleness. And its not correct. True number surely closer to 25,000 deaths, 2-5 million infections today. Lots of ways to estimate but here's a simple one: look at the crematoriums," tweeted Dean of Brown University School of Public Health, Ashish K. Jha last week week.
For many of these calculations, the case study of choice has been various parts of Gujarat. Even as the death toll fails to cross a hundred, the number of obituaries in Gujarati newspapers have increased from a couple dozen to over two hundred. And while one cannot say with certainty that these are all victims of COVID-19, the sharp spike has alarmed many.
According to a report published in today's edition of the Gujarat Samachar, 105 officials (Mamlatdars) had passed away in Vadodara after testing positive for COVID-19 on Thursday. Somewhat contradictorily, official data from the state indicates that there were a total of 67 deaths in the entirety of the state on April 13.
The report however notes that the situation is certainly improving as the second wave plateaus. According to health Ministry data on Friday morning, Gujarat has 1,22,847 active cases. The reports and allegations have created quite the furore online, with many railing against the administration and calling for an explanation.
Coming back to the increase in overall deaths, journalist Deepak Patel on Friday cited news articles to point out that Gujarat had reportedly issued 65,085 more death certificates between March 1-May 10 this year as compared to the same period in 2020. According to official data however, only 4,218 people died from COVID-19 during this time period in 2021. According to a PTI report, from December 31, 2020, Gujarat had thus far reported 2,45,038 cases and 4,306 deaths. As of April 14, 2020, the death toll has risen to 8,840.
Going by these numbers it would mean that in the state had issued over 60 thousand additional death certificates for reasons unrelated to COVID-19. It must be mentioned however that people can apply for a death certificate at a later time, within a year. However, this is an adjustment that takes place constantly, both before and after the pandemic began.