New Delhi: The daily Covid-19 health bulletins issued by the Delhi government have come under the lens for missing data and numbers that appear to be discrepant.
The health bulletins have not specified testing details and pendency since 29 April, and have only included the cumulative number of tests. They no longer specify the fresh cases reported in Delhi’s containment zones, and even the fatality figures they contain have come into question after several hospitals said the numbers were much higher.
The health bulletins haven’t been uploaded on the Delhi government website since 3 May, with the administration releasing a sprinkling of figures on Twitter and sending bulletins to journalists on WhatsApp.
This comes amid what appears to be a sharp spurt in Delhi’s Covid-19 caseload. Between 1 May and 9 May, the national capital has recorded 2,821 cases, which constitutes 43 per cent of its total tally of 6,542. The official death toll stands at 68.
The Delhi government has denied allegations that it is hiding data, noting that the fatalities at different Covid-19 facilities are audited by a committee of doctors.
No clarity on testing figures
As ThePrint reported Friday, the Delhi government is yet to resume releasing Covid-19 test numbers in its daily health bulletins, five days after the Delhi High Court ordered it to do so.
Until 29 April, the daily Covid-19 health bulletins issued by the Arvind Kejriwal government included explicit testing numbers that stated the number of tests conducted by government and private agencies, while also specifying the pendency. But the data has been missing from the bulletins issued since then.
The absence of this data gains significance in light of concerns that delayed diagnoses may be weakening Delhi’s battle against Covid-19.
ThePrint had made multiple attempts, through calls and texts over 24 hours, to contact Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain and the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) office for comment on Friday’s report, but received no response.
However, the Delhi government did announce a couple of instructions in this regard in the bulletin released Saturday morning.
For one, it constituted an inquiry committee to look into “the various aspects of major discrepancies” in the reports released by Dr Lal Path Lab, a private endeavour. The bulletin didn’t specify the nature of the discrepancies, and ThePrint couldn’t immediately determine what they were. The Arvind Kejriwal administration has also instructed all the authorised Covid-19 testing labs to furnish their reports within 24 hours.
Data on containment zone cases missing too
Since 4 May, the bulletin hasn’t featured a column that listed the number of fresh cases reported from containment zones, which are areas that have reported Covid-19 cases.
On 1 May, for example, the bulletin reported 383 fresh cases from 99 containment zones. The figure stood at 1,015 cases from 96 containment zones on 2 May, and 1,071 from 96 containment zones on 3 May.
Delhi had 100 containment zones in the last week of April, but many have been “de-contained” since. As of Saturday, Delhi has 84 containment zones.
When contacted about the absence of this data via text, the office of the Delhi health secretary said the query should be directed to the office of Nutan Mundeja, the director general health services, Delhi government. However, speaking to ThePrint through a phone call, the latter did not respond to this query.
Another detail omitted in recent reports is the number of beds available in hospitals designated as dedicated Covid facilities.
Some administrative officials, including district magistrates, who regularly shared bulletins and figures about Covid-19 with the media stopped doing it this week. A district magistrate told ThePrint they had directions from the health department not to share figures about individual areas.
Asked about the district magistrate’s claim, Mundeja said “what is relevant is that all of Delhi is a red zone”.
“If we start telling people only about specific areas, or the rise in cases there, then they tend to take it easy in other areas,” she added.
Inconsistency among death toll too
A big question mark has also emerged on the fatality figures for Delhi. According to the health bulletin issued Saturday, Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, one of the dedicated Covid-19 hospitals in the capital, has reported five deaths so far.
However, Dr J.C. Passey, the medical director of the hospital, told ThePrint that they had recorded 47 coronavirus-related deaths so far.
Lady Hardinge Medical College, another dedicated Covid-19 facility, has recorded no deaths, according to Delhi government data. But a senior doctor at the hospital said they had recorded three Covid-related deaths.
A report published in The Indian Express Saturday also revealed discrepancies from other dedicated Covid-19 facilities, including the AIIMS branches at Delhi and Jhajjar, Haryana. The two facilities have reportedly witnessed 14 coronavirus-related deaths, but the Delhi government figure pegs the total at two.
No question of hiding data: Govt
The Delhi government has denied hiding any data.
Asked about the fatality figures, a Delhi government official said an “audit committee of doctors… looks into every death reported by Covid-19 hospitals and ensures that each death is reported”.
The official was referring to a three-member committee constituted in the third week of April to audit all Covid-19 deaths reported by government and private hospitals.
No interference had been made in the committee’s operations, the official added.
On Friday, Delhi health minister Satyendar Jain said “there is no question of hiding any data by the Delhi government because if someone tests positive, it should not be hidden”.
“Once the reports come, the hospitals have to inform the government,” he added. He also raised concerns about delayed testing at Delhi labs, saying test reports were taking up to a week to arrive, as compared to 48 hours in Mumbai.
‘Too soon to say if relaxation order had adverse impact’
The May surge in Delhi’s Covid-19 caseload comes just as the government begins to ease the lockdown. While the nationwide lockdown was relaxed from 4 May, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had said Sunday that the time to reopen Delhi had arrived since “coronavirus isn’t going anywhere” and his government is equipped to deal with the crisis at hand.
However, Nutan Mundeja, the director general health services in the Delhi government, said it was too early to say if the lockdown relaxation was a factor.
“We cannot jump to any conclusions,” she added, pointing to the fact that the incubation period of the coronavirus — when a patient begins to show symptoms — is 14 days. “So, it is too soon to say that the relaxation in Delhi has had an adverse impact.”
Asked about the alleged discrepancy in government data, Mundeja said the government was “constantly monitoring data and those who are tested positive, they know”.
“Why must everything be shared with the media? What is important is that everyone is to maintain social distancing,” she added, saying a comprehensive report was submitted to the chief minister every night.