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Is Kerala backlog of Covid deaths a stumbling block to the state’s bragging rights?

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Kerala has kept the number of Covid deaths to a remarkably low level for more than a year since the pandemic struck. The state‘s share of the national death toll was only 1.4% as late as April 21, well into the second wave. Kerala’s share of total deaths in the country surpassed its share of total new cases for the first time in September, rising to 45.2%, then to an alarming 64.7% in October. While Kerala contributed 56% of new Covid cases in India in October, the state’s total death toll increased to 65%.

Importantly, more than 80% of Kerala’s October death toll were backlog deaths — deaths that occurred much earlier but were not disclosed as Covid deaths, partly due to insufficient documentation but more so because of to the state’s lack of willingness — or, in a less charitable interpretation, ‘lack of transparency’ — to acknowledge comorbidities as an unavoidable factor in Covid fatalities.

Veena George, the health minister, ultimately promised clarity, and the government has been going to add undeclared Covid deaths to its total tally for the past few months. Recently, George stated in the Assembly that 7,000 “missing” deaths would be included. To avoid duplication of effort, all deaths are validated at the state level before being added to the official list. This seems logical and sensible.

In determining Covid deaths, the state government has disobeyed all WHO and ICMR guidelines. They were hesitant to include deaths under the Covid account if a patient had any comorbidities, but the government was forced to review all Covid deaths in the state after the Supreme Court ordered compensation. Over 18,000 applications for deaths not included in the official Covid deaths data are believed to have been received by the government.

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