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Orissa HC raises question over COVID-19 fatality count, orders improvement in data gathering system

“Government figures showed that the state recorded 3,097 deaths only in 47 days between July 15 and August 31 this year,” pointed out a division bench headed by Chief Justice S Muralidhar.

SNS | Bhubaneswar |

Expressing displeasure over discrepancies in the Coronavirus death toll, the Odisha High Court has directed the State government to improve the system of accurate district-wise COVID-19-specific health data.

“Government figures showed that the state recorded 3,097 deaths only in 47 days between July 15 and August 31 this year,” pointed out a division bench headed by Chief Justice S Muralidhar.

The HC, adjudicating over a writ petition on the COVID deaths and pandemic management, said, “Earlier, it was reported that there were 4,925 deaths as of July 15, 2021,”

“(But) the affidavit of September 6, 2021, shows there were 8,022 deaths in Odisha due to the pandemic as on August 31, 2021,” the HC said questioning the manner in which these figures have been arrived at.

It asked the government to file a fresh affidavit by October and adjourned the matter till October 7.

“The Court directs the Additional Chief Secretary to state in the affidavit to be filed by 4th October 2021, how the State Government proposes to improve the system of gathering of accurate health data District-wise in the State of Odisha. Specific to COVID-19, the Court would like the affidavit to explain the methodology adopted in arriving at the above figures and whether they relate to the entire period of prevalence of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the court stated in an order.

The high court questioned the estimated target population of the elderly population and asked the state government to clarify whether the target has been fixed on the basis of the 2011 Census or the estimated figure of 2021.

“These figures also do not address the issue of the persons with disabilities and the peculiar problems they have, irrespective of age, in receiving the vaccines,” the court observed.

More than 65% of the total death toll has been recorded in the State in the past 93 days. As many as 5,272 Covid patients have succumbed to infection since 31 May at a daily average of over 56 deaths while the cumulative death toll currently stood at 8,078.

It may be recalled here that the State government had launched the district level audit for the death count as allegations of large-scale death toll under-reporting flew thick and fast in May-June- the peak phase of the pandemic. While the cremation grounds were overwhelmed with bodies of COVID victims, the health agencies had come out with a conservation death count, raising eyebrows in several quarters.

The surge in deaths had begun to emerge after the launch of the district-level audit. More than 65% of the total death toll was recorded in the State in three months’ span with an almost 70% spike in the toll. Around 5,500 deaths were detected which earlier did not figure in the State’s COVID dashboard portal. The State currently accounts for 8,078 Covid deaths as the audit of past deaths came to an end last week.