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How Bengal’s Covid-19 toll went up nearly 4 times in 24 hours after Modi govt probe

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A police checkpoint at Howrah Bridge in Kolkata | Representational image | ANI
A police checkpoint at Howrah Bridge in Kolkata | Representational image | ANI


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Kolkata: The Covid-19 toll for West Bengal went up by three times Friday, hours after the central government wrote to the state chief secretary asking for “case records” of all coronavirus-linked fatalities that had been attributed to other causes by an expert panel constituted by the Mamata Banerjee government. The panel was formed earlier this month to “audit” coronavirus fatalities reported by hospitals in the state. 

The state government said Friday that 57 Covid-19 patients had died in West Bengal but sought to clarify that 39 of these had succumbed to “comorbid conditions”. Coronavirus infection, it added, was ruled “incidental” in their death. Until Thursday, figures released by the state government had pegged the number of deaths at 15.

The fresh information came hours after the inter-ministerial central team (IMCT) wrote to West Bengal Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha, seeking answers on the formation and functioning of the expert committee. 


Also Read: Nobel winner Abhijit Banerjee to guide Mamata govt on beating lockdown impact on economy 


‘57 deaths evaluated so far’

At a press conference Friday, Sinha said the committee had submitted a comprehensive report that stated it had so far “evaluated” 57 deaths. The committee, he added, had ruled Covid-19 as the primary and direct cause of death in 18 of these cases. In the remaining 39, Sinha said, coronavirus was declared an “incidental finding” and the deaths were attributed to “severe comorbid conditions”. 

Global trends thus far have indicated that coronavirus, which has an overall low fatality rate, is quite lethal for those with comorbid conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, and the elderly. This fact raises questions about the government’s approach to analysing coronavirus fatalities.

The expert committee

The expert committee of five doctors that audits Covid-19 fatalities in West Bengal was formed on 3 April. 

Only three coronavirus deaths were declared in West Bengal before the committee was formed and the figure has been updated only six times in three weeks. The committee is said to meet twice a week to determine the cause of death. 

The committee comprises the state’s director for medical education. It follows a checklist of at least 24 points, including comorbid conditions, to ascertain “the cause of death” of a person “who has tested positive for Covid-19”.

Other checkpoints include providing a patient’s history, including “duration and type of fever, sore throat, breathlessness, complete blood count, sodium and potassium levels” etc. 

Hospitals across the state have been asked to adhere to the checklist and attach “supporting documents” for an “audit” by the expert committee.

According to the expert panel’s report submitted Friday, accessed by ThePrint, the “committee examined all the relevant documents including… treatment history, laboratory investigation reports, death certificate and other documents sent by the hospitals concerned” and found 18 deaths to be the result of Covid-19.

The rest were attributed to “comorbid conditions” like “cardiomyopathy with chronic kidney disease, renal failure, cerebro-vascular-accident, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, multi-organ failure in type-II diabetes and so on”.  

Asked if the distinction made in the classification of Covid-19-linked deaths was in line with ICMR guidelines, Sinha said it was a technical issue he couldn’t comment on. 

“There are doctors in the expert committee. They had taken up cases of death that happened even before the committee was formed. The medical reasoning and cause of death can only be determined by doctors. We are bureaucrats and we cannot comment on that,” he added. 


Also Read: 3 Bengal districts tagged hotspot by Modi govt ‘haven’t reported Covid-19 cases in a week’


A nudge from IMCTs 

The IMCT, which landed in West Bengal three days ago amid much opposition from the Mamata Banerjee dispensation, shot off two letters to the state government Friday, seeking a five-point clarification about the expert committee. 

The letter, signed by IMCT leader Apurva Chandra, seeks the government order issued to constitute the committee, case records of all Covid-19 fatalities attributed to other causes by the panel, time taken by the committee in coming to the conclusion, whether there are similar committees in the state to ascertain the cause of death for other diseases, and whether such a committee is in line with ICMR guidelines or medical practice. The IMCT also requested an interaction with the committee. There are currently two IMCTs in Bengal, both led by Chandra.

Since the IMCT’s arrival, the state appears to be reporting more cases of Covid-19. 

For instance, according to the health bulletin issued 17 April, the total number of active cases was 162. On 20 April, the figure was 245, a rise just under than 100. Four days later, on 24 April, the state reported 385 active cases, an increase of 140. 

Testing has also picked up. While 4,212 samples had been tested by 17 April, the number was 5,469 by 20 April and 8,933 by 24 April. The average per-day testing figures have shot up to 943 from 240.

Addressing the media Thursday, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee weighed in on the discrepancy. She said the central government was either sending faulty kits or withdrawing the ones sent, adding that testing had picked up because the state was procuring kits on its own. 

The IMCT’s letters Friday also raise questions about the state’s testing and reporting patterns, besides some “infrastructural issues” at local hospitals.

However, the Trinamool Congress sought to defend its handling of the crisis. 

“The problem surfaced here as the Centre sent us all faulty kits. We could not conduct the required number of tests as we did not have kits,” Santanu Sen, a Trinamool Congress MP and former member of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) said.  


Also Read: Mamata gives Rs 10 lakh insurance cover to journalists, asks them to report positive news


 

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Andhra doctor, suspended for alleging PPE shortage, now beaten by cops for ‘creating nuisance’

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A doctor with a stethoscope (Representative image) | Pixabay


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Bengaluru: A doctor with a government hospital in Andhra Pradesh, who was suspended for questioning the shortage of PPE kits, was admitted to a mental health facility Sunday, a day after he was allegedly manhandled by the police and arrested for creating nuisance in Visakhapatnam.

Dr Sudhakar Rao, a government civil surgeon, was beaten, his hands tied behind his back and dragged by police officers Sunday. During the incident, Sudhakar allegedly verbally abused the Jagan Mohan Reddy government in an inebriated state. Videos of the incident have since been widely shared online.

“The police control room received a call about a person creating nuisance on Beach Road Hospital in Visakhapatnam. The Fourth Town police was rushed there and found that the person was the suspended doctor, Sudhakar.

“When the police tried to control him, he snatched the mobile phone of an officer and threw it away. He is suffering from mental disorder and he was drunk. He was sent for a medical examination,” Vishakapatnam Police Commissioner R.K. Meena told the media Sunday.

Sudhakar was admitted to a mental hospital Sunday after doctors at the King George Hospital in Vishakapatnam said he suffered from anxiety.

“Since the doctor is in anxiety and talking irrelevant things, I have referred him to a mental care hospital in Visakhapatnam,” said Dr Radha Rani, medical superintendent, King George Hospital.

A statement released by the hospital said: “Dr Sudhakar was brought to the KGH casualty ward at 6.30 pm. From the smell, it was found that he was in a drunk condition. Under the influence of alcohol, he did not cooperate with anybody there and kept abusing all. Still, his pulse, BP were checked. Pulse was 98, BP 140/100. Blood samples were sent to forensic lab to ascertain alcohol content in his blood.”


Also read: 6 toilets for 20 houses, inadequate testing: Why Mumbai’s Worli chawls are a Covid hotspot


‘Treatment towards Sudhakar was inhuman’

Sudhakar, who spent more than 10 years at the Narsipatnam Government Hospital in Andhra Pradesh, was suspended from his duties in March after he openly criticised the Reddy government for failing to provide PPE kits and N95 masks to doctors treating Covid-19 patients.

He had alleged that the state government was giving N95 masks and PPE kits meant for doctors to politicians and the police.

A video of Sudhakar criticising the government was also shared widely. In the clip, he can be heard saying: “We are putting our lives at risk here. We are asked to use the same mask for 15 days and a fresh mask will be provided only twice a month.”

Speaking to ThePrint, Dr P. Gangadhar Rao, member of the National COVID Committee of the Indian Medical Association, said the manner in which Sudhakar was manhandled by the police was “inhuman” and “violated” human rights.

“We strongly condemn the way he was taken into custody. He was not carrying a weapon, he was alone, the number of policemen outnumbered him. Why treat him like that? We also saw a video where a policeman beats him with a lathi,” said Dr Gangadhar.

He added that Rao was one of the most experienced anaesthetists the Andhra Pradesh government had.

“Our next step of action is to get Sudhakar to write an unconditional apology for having used filthy language, abusing the chief minister and the government. We will then take our appeal to the CM seeking that he be reinstated,” Gangadhar said.


Also read: Face shields, gowns, masks — the new attire for cabin crew post lockdown


 

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