Health authorities in India reported over 2,000 new deaths on June 17 – the country’s highest daily mortality to date. The deaths, which brought the country’s total to 11,903, also included Mumbai’s revised figures. The city added 862 more deaths to bring the city’s total to 3,165 because of unspecified accounting “discrepancies,” However, officials did not indicate if the deaths were from the past 24 hours or adjustments over a longer period.
New Delhi saw record numbers, logging over 400 deaths to bring the capital city’s total to more than 1,800. Other major cities recorded a surge in cases after the lockdown was eased late last month. Chennai, a major hotspot in the country’s southern region, is enforcing a lockdown on June 19 following an increase in new cases.
Despite the rising figures, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that lockdowns will continue to be lifted in an effort to keep the economy afloat. In a video conference with his chief ministers, Modi noted that the impact of the coronavirus was felt more in big cities and states, owing to their high density of population. This makes it difficult to enforce social distancing and limit daily movement.
However, the prime minister said areas going forward with easing restrictions should maintain social distancing and proper hygiene practices. He also warned against spreading “rumors of lockdown,” mentioning that the country is now in a “phase of unlocking.”
Mumbai, the epicenter of the outbreak, revised its official death toll this week. Local officials said the discrepancies were from records filed in counting centers, which snowballed as the pandemic spread. The deaths in question all recorded COVID-19 as the cause of death, but these weren’t integrated into the master database.
“[COVID-19] patient information is filled on the portal from hospitals in various districts. The state government always rechecks these and adjusted information is made public on the web portal,” local officials said in a statement. “Therefore, even if there is an increase in the figures, there should be no reason to doubt the intentions of the government.”
The revision in death figures sparked a bitter row between the federal government and Maharashtra state, as the latter is governed by an alliance comprising Modi’s rivals. As of June 17, fatalities in Maharashtra – including state capital Mumbai – account for nearly half of the country’s overall death toll. Critics previously accused the local government of Mumbai of under-reporting deaths. Authorities, however, maintained that it took action right after the discrepancies were identified.
In an interview with CNN News18, a senior official claimed the city looked into all discrepancies after seeing a mismatch in deaths in one hospital. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, stated that the data has been cleaned now.
“There is no reason for us to hide (the deaths). We want to be 100 [percent] transparent,” he added.
The Ministry of Health logged 12,881 new coronavirus cases – the seventh consecutive day that cases were above 10,000 – bringing India’s tally to 366,946 as of June 18. According to authorities, nearly half of the country’s cases are concentrated in its four major states: Maharashtra; Tamil Nadu, where Chennai is located; National Capital Territory, which includes New Delhi; and Uttar Pradesh, the world’s most populous state.
The week also saw India’s fatality rate increase to 3.3 percent from 2.8. (Related: India’s coronavirus caseload surges after lockdown.)
India currently has the fourth-highest coronavirus caseload in the world, after the U.S., Brazil and Russia, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. However, public health experts believe the number may be much higher, given limited testing.
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