The severity of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in Kerala is telling in the state’s official fatality figures. While, initially, Kerala took 371 days to cross the 5500 deaths mark, it took just 40 days to record another 5500 deaths.
After the first fatality — an Ernakulam-native — on March 28 last year, Kerala counted 5500 deaths on May 4 this year. Between May 5 and June 13, an equal number of persons succumbed to the virus in the state.
As of June 13, the state had recorded 11,181 cumulative deaths, half of which were reported in the last 40 days. The state has reported over 100 deaths daily since May 18, and on four occasions, crossed the 200-mark too. The highest number of deaths (226) were reported on June 6.
The second wave in Kerala, and the rest of the country, was propelled by a highly infectious variant, now commonly known as the Delta variant. It spread faster in the community and led to an increase in hospitalisations. Though the infection curve has peaked and is currently in the process of decline, Kerala continues to report an excess of over 100 deaths daily.
Dr Sulphi Noohu, an ENT consultant and national coordinator of the social media wing of the Indian Medical Association, said, “There are a number of reasons for the high deaths during the second wave. First, the infectivity of the Delta variant of the virus was high so naturally more people are affected, leading to more deaths. Second, there’s no doubt our hospitals were overloaded. In many cities, the casualty sections in hospitals were locked. More than having adequate facilities, I think we were not able to distribute (capacities) of existing facilities. Third, while the elderly had some kind of protection (with the vaccine), the younger population below the age of 40 got infected a lot.”
Though Kerala maintains that its case fatality rate of 0.41 per cent is among the lowest in the country, there have been charges of severe under-reporting of deaths against the health administration. For the longest time, despite criticism from media, political opposition and public health experts, the state government continued to report Covid-19 deaths through a state-level death audit committee which often pronounced deaths two or three weeks after the date of death. After prodding on the need to maintain transparency, the state government decided to confirm fatalities due to the virus at the district level and purportedly through a new online system, where doctors can directly enter details of deaths under their watch.
“Like in other states of India, the Covid-19 death rate in Kerala cannot be labelled as accurate. This is not the actual toll, and everyone in the health sector will agree,” said Dr Sulphi. “(Calculating deaths) cannot be done by a team. That itself is the problem. It has to be the doctor who treats the patient. If I treat a patient and if that patient dies, I write the reason for death. If it is analysed and re-written by a team of doctors who have not seen the patient, it is totally wrong.”