Kolkata, April 2 (IANS) West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee government on Thursday entangled itself in a mess about the coronavirus death toll, with health officials and the Chief Secretary coming up with contradictory figures.
A Health Department official – member of the experts committed formed by Chief Minister Banerjee to tackle the disease – in an afternoon media conference gave the total death count as seven, that incuded four people who passed away in the last 24 hours.
According to him, 16 more persons tested positive for the coronavirus infection in the last 24 hours, taking the disease tally to 53 in the state.
Three persons have so far been cured in the state from the deadly disease.
“Four more persons expired over the last 24 hours. The death figure now stands at 7. There were 16 positive cases in the last 24 hours, and the total number of infected has now gone up to 53,” the official told the media.
About three hours after the expert committee’s media briefing, Chief Secretary Rajiv Sinha held a second round of video conference with journalists.
He claimed the number of deaths was three, contending that four of the deceased had comorbidity, a medical term to denote the presence of one or more additional conditions co-occurring with a primary condition.
As per Sinha’s logic, while three were Covid-19 related deaths, the other four had history of heart ailments or kidney failure and it could not be established they perished due to the specific viral disease.
He also came up with some statistical jugglery to project a lower figure for the viral infection in the state, by highlighting the number of active cases at present, rather than the total number of persons testing positive.
“I would like to explain to you certain things. Of the 53 positive cases, three have been cured. So the number goes down to 50. Again, the second or confirmatory test results of nine people were negative. So the number further dwindles to 41.
“While three have died of Covid-19, four others who passed away Ahad co-morbidity. Therefore, at present there are 34 active Covid 19 cases in the state,” he said.
On Wednesday, hospitals and health officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, had by early afternoon confirmed six deaths due to Covid-19.
However, at 5 p.m., the Chief Minister held a presser, halving the death figure to three, as she brought up the logic of comorbidity to deny that the other deceased had died of the disease.
Lashing out at the media for claiming that the death toll was soaring in the state, Banerjee said one of the deceased had pneumonia while the other had kidney failure.
“Some nursing homes, just to gain publicity, are claiming that their patients have coronavirus. The media should crosscheck with the government. This is a time of disaster. So don’t play with fire. Your reports may create panic in the society. So please don’t do all this to raise your TRPs,” she said.
A couple of hours after Banerjee’s media meet, the daily Covid-19 bulleting issued by the Health Department gave the death count as three but added a footnote.
“Two male persons, both aged 57 years, and one male person aged 62 years, all having Severe Acute Respiratory Illness expired. One of them had Chronic Renal Failure, another had Respiratory Failure and the third one had hypertension and other co-morbid conditions. They had all reportedly tested positive, which is subject to confirmation,” the bulletin said.
The government’s flip-flop on the death and affected figures drew sharp criticism from doctors and opposition parties.
Taking a dig at the Banerjee government, state BJP president Dilip Ghosh referred to the old criticism about the regime “trying to pass off” dengue deaths as those due to “unknown fever”.
“In Paschim Banga, Dengue is unknown figure, and Covid 19 is kidney failure and pneumonia,” Ghosh tweeted.
In a tweet, state CPI-M Secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra, himself a doctor, said coronavirus related deaths happen due to pneumonia and kidney failure. “If this is not accepted, then that is dangerous.
“The doctor writes the cause of death, not the Chief Minister. This is illegal interference. If you hide the disease, it only gets more intense. In one stroke, the number of casualties have been halved,” he said.
A doctor, speaking on anonymity, said such attitude of the state government is a cause for concern. “One cannot contain such a disease in this way. Because the disease has to be identified, and all measures taken fr treatment. If you deny its existence, it will lead to a catastrophe,” he added.