THERE was undeniably a nationwide shortage of medical oxygen in April-May, when the second wave of Covid-19 was most virulent. Hospitals in several states, including Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, had recorded deaths that were linked to insufficient supply of the life-saving gas. The Delhi High Court had pulled up the Centre for failing to comply with the Supreme Court’s order to supply 700 MT oxygen daily to hospitals of the Capital for treating Covid patients. During that period, the fatality rate had shot up alarmingly, with thousands of people succumbing on a daily basis. It’s reasonable to assume that some of those lives were lost due to scarcity of oxygen. However, the Centre told the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday that no deaths due to lack of oxygen were ‘specifically reported’ by states and union territories during the second wave. This shocking assertion, totally at variance with the ground reality, points to unpardonable lapses by the states and UTs which provided misleading information. It’s also symptomatic of the indifference and laxity of the authorities at various levels. The Centre is at fault for having taken the data received from the states at face value.
Data recording, collection and verification have left a lot to be desired since the onset of the pandemic. Underreporting and undercounting have led to inaccuracies in the Covid numbers. Maharashtra’s Covid death toll has risen by more than 3,500 after the addition of previously unreported fatalities. Similarly, Bihar’s count of lives lost had gone up by over 5,000 in a day when unrecorded data was included last month. Though India’s official tally of deaths stands at 4.18 lakh, Washington-based Centre for Global Development has estimated that the actual figure could be as high as nearly 50 lakh.
The clamour for a nationwide audit of Covid fatalities is growing. The exercise should be initiated in earnest to remove all doubts and reveal the true picture, no matter how scary. Governments must look beyond estimates and guesstimates and insist on painstaking exactitude. India’s fight against the pandemic will remain ineffectual as long as there is no transparency and accountability.
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