‘Excess deaths’ in Haryana seven times official COVID-19 toll

New Delhi, July 15 (KMS): The number of “excess deaths” registered by the Civil Registration System (CRS) in Indian state of Haryana ever since the COVID-19 pandemic hit (from April 2020 to May 2021) was 60,397, which is 7.3 times the official reported figure of 8,303 COVID-19 deaths for the same period.

This high number was largely due to the deaths registered in April 2021 (28,276) and May 2021(46,108). In this period which coincided with the second wave, the excess deaths were around 46,283, compared with the registered COVID-19 tally of 5,148, leading to an undercount factor of 9. The overall tally in Haryana, as of July 12, is 9,556.

The excess deaths were calculated based on the month-wise number of deaths registered in the online CRS from January 2018 to May 2021, which was accessed by The Hindu. Not all excess deaths would be related to COVID-19 but a bulk of them are, during the pandemic. The mortality figures registered online for 2018 and 2019 — 1,85,842 and 1,88,910 — were 96.1% and 97.3% of the deaths mentioned in the annual reports on “Vital Statistics in India based on CRS” 2018 and 2019 respectively.

The undercount factor (7.3) and the excess deaths for Haryana (60,397) were lower compared with those from Madhya Pradesh (23.8 and 1,92,044) in the same period and for which complete data have been made available so far. Excess deaths have also been estimated for Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Gujarat but these figures are only partial, either for some districts (U.P.) or for a limited period (Bihar and Gujarat) or only a smaller portion registered online (Rajasthan).

The excess deaths calculated in Haryana were based on the mortality figures registered online. According to the Civil Registration System report for 2019, Haryana registered 100% of all deaths in the State, much of it online. Excess deaths might go up as late registrations are tallied in the State.

Not all “excess deaths” would be related to COVID-19 but a bulk of them are, during the pandemic. A look at deaths and causal factors in the CRS, available only for the State of Tamil Nadu showed a steep increase in deaths related to causes such as pneumonia during the pandemic period, indicating that COVID-19 related deaths could have been re-classified as such deaths.

Excess deaths calculations (and therefore, undercount factors) depend on the method to calculate them: either based on the years for which averages are considered or if a projection based on linear growth of deaths year on year is used. For Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, excess deaths were calculated based on registrations available only for two pre-pandemic years, 2018 and 2019. Haryana’s undercount figures were slightly higher than those for Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Karnataka’s and Kerala’s figures fall if the linear growth estimation method is used, indicating that better registration in later years has lowered “excess deaths”. Tamil Nadu’s undercount factors do not change much.

More than twice India’s COVID-19 tally

If the excess deaths for just the six States for whom analysis for the pandemic period between April 2020 and May 2021 based on full data has been done are added up, the total comes to 7,32,698, nearly eight times the official tally recorded in these States (90,577). India’s overall official COVID-19 death toll itself was 4,10,997 as of July 13 8 p.m.

Faridabad tops in Haryana excess deaths

Among districts in Haryana, Faridabad (6,467), Gurugram (5,908), Hisar (4,859) and Sonipat (3,806) had the highest excess deaths, but the undercount factor for Panchkula, Sonipat, Palwal and Jhajjhar were the highest — 17, 16.1, 15.6 and 15.3 respectively. All numbers correspond to the April 2020 to May 2021 period.


‘Ongoing process’

Haryana’s nodal officer for COVID-19, Dr. Dhruva Chaudhary, who is also head of pulmonary and critical care medicine department at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences (PGIMS), Rohtak, told The Hindu that audit of all deaths is an ongoing process and is being done across the State. “The discrepancy in deaths is a matter of debate. We have nothing to hide, and all deaths are being reported. The death audit mechanism is a constant process, and we are doing it. Every single death is accountable in Haryana.”

Mr. Chaudhary said that as far as the higher number of COVID-19 deaths than officially recorded was concerned “there can’t be a guess work, but I am sure it’s not going to be very high. In Haryana, the data is online. If the number of total deaths has gone up, the proportionate deaths have also gone up.”

“I want to make it clear that the State’s Health department led by Additional Chief Secretary Rajeev Arora did a commendable work to curb COVID-19. During the second wave it was Delhi, which put a huge pressure on Haryana. At that time 60-70% patients in Gurugram and neighbouring areas were from Delhi. The blast was in Delhi and its tsunami impact was felt and heard in Haryana,” said Mr. Chaudhary.

Deaths among females

A look at the gender break-up of the deaths in the State from 2018 to 2021 shows that the proportion of deaths among females went up marginally from 36.5 during the pre-pandemic years to 37.1% and 39.7% in 2020 and 2021.

This was unlike in Tamil Nadu (the only other State for which The Hindu had data available for the pandemic years), where the proportion of female people among those dead was close to 40% consistently from 2015 to 2021.