Kerala underreporting Covid deaths by almost half, claims BBC report

A group of researchers led by Dr Arun N Madhavan has been trawling through local newspapers and media to find reports on Covid-19 deaths in Kerala
Kerala underreporting Covid deaths by almost half, claims BBC report

The British Broadcasting Corporation’s Soutik Biswas has reported that Kerala might be underreporting the death counts in its Covid tally. He has made the report based on a group of people's efforts at observing the district editions of seven local newspapers and five news channels. The group, led by Dr Arun N Madhavan, recorded the observed data into a spreadsheet.

“As of Thursday night, the volunteers had counted 3,356 deaths from the infection in Kerala, which reported its first Covid-19 case in January and the first casualty in March. But the official death toll from the disease is 1,969,” the BBC report says. This comes as a shock to many as the state has boasted of a transparent reporting system with data from all districts compiled to form a complete data that stretches all the way till the beginning. Moreover, the data is accessible and easy to understand as available from the official dashboard.

Speaking to BBC, Dr Madhavan said that underreporting was rampant. Patients who tested negative just before they died and did not belong to Kerala were not counted, the report claims. A top bureaucrat who has been advising the government on handling the pandemic admitted to Biswas that there were “some under-reporting”. The bureaucrat added that they have “not consciously hidden data”. Meanwhile, the report also quotes Oommen C Kurien of the Delhi-based think tank Observer Research Foundation. Kurien tells BBC that undercounting deaths in Kerala has been “conscious and systematic, and not because of systemic weakness”.

Kurien adds, “The authorities seem to be convinced that by whatever means the state should keep its reputation as a Covid-19 success story.” Another source told BBC that the underreporting seemed to serve no purpose. Even if the state had doubled the official count to factor in the unreported cases, it would still fall well below the counts as published by other states.

This revelation seems to call into question why Kerala, which seems to value transparency, has to underreport deaths. Kerala had had a good start to dealing with the infection, thanks to its Health Minister KK Shailaja and the isolation strategy as followed during the Nipah outbreak. In the initial stages, it seemed to have been working, especially when the other states were reporting high numbers.

Many international media have declared Kerala’s efforts at tackling coronavirus cases a “lesson to be learnt”. While the state had been hailed for having apparently flattened the curve, come March all praises seemed to have been premature. BBC had filed a story hailing Kerala’s Covid efforts and how they had “flattened the curve”. This was in April, and in July, the same organisation had published a story saying how Kerala’s Covid success story ‘had come undone’.

Kerala still seems to be in a volatile situation, but the state has been alleged of meddling with the test numbers to try and keep the numbers where they want them to be at. However, the Test Positivity Rate keeps betraying their intentions. With India, and many states, reporting low numbers, Kerala is yet to get their situation in order.

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