New Delhi: Telangana is already among the worst Covid-hit states in the country but it now appears that it could be in a far more precarious position. There is a visible discrepancy in the number of positive cases that two arms of the state government have been putting out, raising suspicions that the state government may be under-reporting its numbers.
According to the health bulletin released by the KCR-led government Thursday night, the state has recorded 18,570 cases. But the Covid-19 live dashboard on the Telangana health and government website shows over 21,393 cases as of Thursday night.
Similarly, until Wednesday night, the health bulletin showed over 17,000 cases while the dashboard showed over 19,000 cases.
— Dr G Srinivasa Rao (@drgsrao) July 2, 2020
There are also discrepancies in the death toll. On Thursday night, the bulletin showed 275 deaths while the dashboard pegged it at 267 deaths.
James Wilson, a data analyst, also confirmed that the “dashboard inadvertently displays the total confirmed cases that are more than their press releases”.
“Telangana has a history of not disclosing real testing numbers either,” said Wilson, who has been tweeting some of these figures on multiple occasions.
The issue has created a stir on social media with several Twitter users accusing the government of fudging data and under-reporting the Covid-19 cases in Telangana. Many of these comments have come in response to the daily health bulletin put out by Health Minister Eatala Rajender.
— Manojit Sarkar (@dj_mono_cbs) June 30, 2020
Wo Telangana Government have osm skill of Data management but they forget to maintain Dashboard
According to dashboard at 9 pm total case of Covid-19 8105
— MUQTADA HUSAIN (@muqtada_husain) June 21, 2020
Why there is so much difference between Telangana Covid-19 dashboard and Telangana health bulletin pic.twitter.com/Ln0l1v0LRg
— MUQTADA HUSAIN (@muqtada_husain) June 20, 2020
‘High positives-low testing’
The discrepancies come even as Telangana has been clubbed in the ‘high positives-low testing’ category of states. Telangana has India’s highest positive rate at 27.7 per cent and the country’s lowest number of tests at a mere 14,690 from 10 June to 23 June. Its capital Hyderabad had recorded the second highest positive rate for a city at 32.1 per cent on 23 June, after Mumbai at 33 per cent.
Its strategy has drawn flak from even the state high court. On Wednesday, the court said the state government had not only failed to control the spread of Covid-19 virus but also kept people in the dark about its spread and did not implement important orders it had issued.
A bench of Chief Justice Raghvendra Singh Chauhan and Justice B. Vijaysen Reddy told advocate general B.S. Prasad that on the one hand the chief secretary says that the government is following the ICMR guidelines on testing and on the other, director of pubic health stops testing. “The ICMR never said testing should be stopped,” the chief justice said.
The state has also witnessed a tremendous increase in Covid-positive cases in the past one month, especially in Hyderabad. Over 80 per cent of the total cases according to the daily health bulletin, have been recorded in the month of June itself.
Of the 21,393 cases in Telangana, 13,740 are from the Hyderabad district. But the government had not released the total figures from Hyderabad for the past two weeks in its bulletin. And when it did on Thursday, it put the number at 1,264 fresh cases while the Covid-19 live dashboard showed 994 cases.
‘Not fudging data, private labs to blame for discrepancy’
Health Minister Eatala Rajender’s office initially denied fudging any data and asked for the link ThePrint was referring to. On being shown the screenshots as well as the link for the dashboard on the Telangana health department website, there was no response.
Director of public health, Dr G. Srinivasa Rao, meanwhile, blamed private labs for the discrepancy. “The discrepancy is due to improper conduct of tests with abnormally high positive results and incomplete uploading of the data by private laboratories in the state,” he said, adding that the matter is under investigation by an experts committee that is probing the authenticity of tests.
“After verification, correct data will be notified shortly,” Dr Rao told ThePrint.
Private laboratories testing Covid-19 samples in Telangana have been violating guidelines, according to an inspection by the state government on 29 June, raising questions over the veracity of the region’s increased number of cases and positivity rate in Hyderabad.
However, when ThePrint asked Rao why the incomplete data was being uploaded on the dashboard in the government website, there was no response.
ThePrint had managed access to the “statistics page” of the Telangana Health and Family welfare website through data experts; the website now does not allow access to the page. When asked about this, the government officials refused to respond.
The state government has also shut down 60 per cent of the 18 ICMR-approved private labs starting Thursday for four days, to sanitise and clear the backlog pointed out by the state government.
Central team asks state to develop action plan for next 2 months
Meanwhile, a central team led by Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the Ministry of Health and Family, visited Telangana Monday for the second time and asked the state government officials to ramp up testing.
The team also raised concerns over contact tracing and on surveillance in containment zones. It directed the government to prescribe Covid tests for all doctors and even private health workers in line with ICMR guidelines. The Centre has also advised the KCR-led government to develop an action plan for the next two months in view of the increasing number of cases.
Hyderabad had suspended testing for a few days starting 25 June until the backlog of tests was cleared. Rao, the director of public health, however told ThePrint Wednesday, that the government had resumed testing now.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.