There are significant concerns that the death tally in Gujarat is vastly greater than what is being admitted by the Government. A recent media report claimed that only 58 thousand people had died between March 1st and May 10 in 2020 but the numbers for the same period this year is 1 lakh 23 thousand.
The numbers are based on the death certificates issued during the same period, which reflect the numbers as stated above. Gujarat Home Minister Pradipsinh Jadeja has refuted allegations that the state government is undercounting Covid-19 deaths stating that death certificates alone cannot be the basis of such claims.
He said that registration of death certificates have gone online due to which there are chances that the same individual was registered twice. Furthermore, during the same period last year, there was lockdown in place that most likely delayed the registration of deaths.
There are more reasons why the number of deaths during the period mentioned may not be enough to paint an accurate picture of the circumstances in the state and why statistics from 2020 are not a reliable indicator.
Gujarat trends in previous years
Weirdly enough, for reasons not yet understood, there were significantly fewer deaths in 2020 compared to 2019. Times of India had reported that the state had recorded 3.74 lakh deaths in 2020 between January and November, at an average of 1,134 deaths daily, which was 10.8% less than all deaths in 2019. In 2019, 1,271 occurred every day on an average.
The death rate for the period in the current year is 1732 per day, which appears significantly higher than 2019 or 2020. But nevertheless, we will have to wait till the end of the year to figure out the excess deaths compared to 2020 and 2021.
The significantly higher death rate could be due to a seasonal upswing in deaths which could be normalised by the end of the year. However, it is to be expected that the deaths in 2021 will be significantly higher than 2020 and even in 2019 due to the Coronavirus pandemic as well as factors such as increasing population and others.
According to the Times of India report, Gujarat had recorded 3.68 lakh deaths in 2017, 3.93 lakh in 2018, 4.19 in 2019 and 3.74 lakhs in 2020 (between January and November). Based on simple calculations based on the yearly growth rate in the number of deaths, Gujarat was expect to have somewhere between 4,46,235 to 4,47,073 deaths in 2020 (barring the month of December). But as we know, the number was significantly lower than that despite the pandemic.
If we take it as an estimate that the death rate will grow by 6.5% in 2021 from the estimated deaths in 2020 from January to November (which was significantly higher than the actual number of deaths), then in 2021, Gujarat is expected to suffer between 475240 and 476132 deaths barring December. That amounts to an average death rate of 1302 to 1304 deaths per day.
Since there is a pandemic underway, it is to be expected that there will be some amount of excess deaths this year. However, an average of 1732 deaths per day is quite high. The death rate during the period prior to the one mentioned and for the remainder of the year has to be seen before coming to any premature conclusion regarding the death rate in the state.
Cherry picking one particular period of the year when the virus was at its peak and concluding that it is normative of the situation in the state is not a valid metric. If that were the case, then someone else could cherry pick 2020 as his metric and reach the conclusion that the virus is not very dangerous.
The person in the hypothetical scenario would be as wrong as someone who looks at the current data for the period between March 1st and May 2021 and concludes that the situation in Gujarat is apocalyptic. India has taken quite a blow during the pandemic, yes, but caution has to be advised before drawing far reaching conclusions from limited data.
Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation data
The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation data on deaths provides some insights into the situation in the state. As per data available, between March 1st and May 10, 2021, 13593 death certificates were issued in 2021. The same for 2020 was 7786 and for 2019, 2018, 2017, the figure was 9950, 9866, 9319 respectively.
For reasons stated above, we cannot compare the current data with the same in 2020. Therefore, the correct comparison would be between the trends observed three previous years and the 2021. By the trends of previous years, if we assume that 10,100 people are expected to die during the period, a mere 150 increase over 2 years, then add it to the Covid-19 death in AMC as reported by the Divya Bhaskar (2126), then the tally adds to 12,226.
That figure is not too far off from the tally of 13593, the total number of death certificates as reported in the media. The total extra deaths amounts to 1367, that is, 19 additional deaths per day during the 71 day period on average.
It cannot be said for certain the precise cause for the extra deaths because it is known that hospitals were overwhelmed by Covid-19 patients, leaving very little space for those suffering from other disease for adequate treatment. Thus, quite clearly, allegations that the Gujarat government is vastly undercounting deaths do not appear to have a basis in fact when one looks closely at the data available.