COVID-19: Bengal tops in death rate; blame it on Kolkata

Bengal mortality rate at 9%; about 68% of total deaths in state recorded in Kolkata, says data 

By Jayanta Basu
Published: Thursday 14 May 2020
COVID-19: Bengal tops in death rate; blame it on Kolkata. Source: Wikimedia Commons

At least 140 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) deaths out of 1,126 patients who tested positive to SARS-CoV-2 in Kolkata has pushed West Bengal to become the Indian state with the highest mortality rate (9 per cent), according to Union government figures.

The mortality rate was at least three times the national average, according to the data.

In contrast, Mumbai registered 556 deaths within 15,747 COVID-19 patients and a mortality rate of 3.5 per cent; Ahmedabad 446 deaths out of 6,645 patients and mortality rate 6.7 per cent; and Pune 164 deaths out of 3,151 patients with mortality rate 5.2 per cent.

The assessment, which factored in cities with at least 500 positive cases, was made on the basis of data generated through May 13, 2020.

West Bengal recorded 2,290 positive cases as on May 14, 2020. The Union home secretary recently raised the issue in a letter to West Bengal’s chief secretary as well.

The ruling Trinamool Congress, however, claimed that Kolkata was better off than cities such as Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Indore and claimed the Union government was targeting West Bengal.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had earlier levelled the same allegation against the Centre at a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other chief ministers recently.  

Kolkata’s share of total affected patients was about 49 per cent in West Bengal. It accounted for 68 per cent of total deaths in the state.

What explains the surge?

 “The main reason is less testing, because of which we detected less COVID-19 patients,” said AG Ghoshal, head of National Allergy Asthma Bronchitis Institute.

West Bengal was ahead of only Bihar in testing rate (533 per million), as on May 13. Delhi has conducted 5,736 tests per million so far.

A senior public health expert explained the state’s initial effort to test few, identify few and show less COVID-19 deaths by siphoning part of it under co-morbidities as the main reason behind the trend.

“All calculations went astray when the actual figure tumbled out under Union government pressure,” said an expert.

The Bengal government had set up a death audit committee that classified deaths into deaths caused by COVID-19 and those by co- morbidities.

However the practice was discontinued after a spate of data suppression allegations, including 72 alleged co-morbidity deaths.

“Kolkata also received more people from outside India than most cities in the country. That could be another reason,” said Kunal Sarkar, a cardiac surgeon.

Sarkar, however, pointed out that Bengal’s death figure per million people was not unusually high — it was less than Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Maharastra and Gujarat.

“We could not test enough initially because of the Union government’s non-cooperation. But we have significantly picked up of late. Moreover rapid kits haven’t been made available so far,” said Santanu Sen, TMC MP and secretary of state’s Indian Medical Association chapter.

Sen claimed that state’s infectivity rate — the number of infected out of those tested — has been less for the last few days as compared to other states.

A few experts pointed at other factors behind the high mortality rate.

“As the private healthcare has been largely been non-functional so far, the pressure is predominantly on government health set-ups that do not have the infrastructure to deal with the large influx of critical patients,” said Manash Gumta, a physician.

Arup Hadar, a respiratory medicine expert, said exposure to high levels of particulate matter 2.5 triggered co-morbidities such as respiratory or cardiac ailments and contributed to the high death count. 

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