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How Many Are Really Dying in UP? The Curious Case of Two Cities

Quint’s investigation reaffirms what experts and reports are alleging, about undercounting of COVID deaths in UP.

Updated
COVID-19
5 min read
The Quint’s investigation into the deaths in UP has thrown up cases quite similar to what some reports are alleging, about the undercounting of the dead.
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The COVID-19 death toll in the country has crossed the three lakh mark. While this data in itself is terrifying, many experts and reports say that this number is much less than the actual deaths.

The Quint’s investigation into the deaths in Uttar Pradesh has thrown up cases quite similar to what some reports are alleging, about the undercounting of the dead.

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KANPUR

The authorities in the Health Department of Kanpur Municipal Corporation issued a total of 3,026 death certificates in April (1,527) and May (1,499) in 2019.

In 2020, a total of 1,901 death certificates had been issued for the entirety of April and May. In 2021, from 1 April to 17 May, a total of 3,551 death certificates were issued.

Now, let's compare the data of deaths in Kanpur in 2019 (the year with no pandemic) to that of 2020 and 2021.

In 2020, 1,125 fewer deaths (a decrease of 37.17 per cent ) were reported in Kanpur compared to the same period in 2019. That begs the question, how did deaths reduce in 2020 compared to 2019, amid a pandemic?

Coming to 2021, the period from 1 April-17 May, saw 3,551 death certificates being issued. Let's compare this figure to the same period in 2019. Considering an average of 48.35 death certificates being issued daily in April-May 2019, the approximate number of deaths between 1 April-17 May 2019 is 2,349. This means, there were approximately 1,202 more death certificates issued in this period in 2021 compared to the same in 2019.

One can attribute the additional 1,202 deaths in 2021 to the pandemic. However, the UP government has accounted for only 783 deaths due to COVID-19 for 1 April-17 May 2021. That begs the question, how were the remaining 419 deaths (1,202 - 783) caused? Is it possible that several of these were not reported as COVID-19 deaths?

How Many Are Really Dying in UP? The Curious Case of Two Cities
Death certificate issued by Health Department (Birth and Death Office), Kanpur Municipal Corporation.
Death certificate issued by Health Department (Birth and Death Office), Kanpur Municipal Corporation.
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

VARANASI

Similarly, as per data issued by the Varanasi Municipal Corporation, 887 death certificates were issued in April 2021, while 1,265 death certificates have been issued between 1 May and 16 May.

How Many Are Really Dying in UP? The Curious Case of Two Cities

According to the COVID death toll shared by the Chief Minister’s Office, there were 176 deaths in April in Varanasi, while 145 deaths occurred between 1 and 20 May.

That is, the death certificates issued by the Municipal Corporation increased by 176 percent from April to May (if we estimate the whole month from the figures so far in May) but deaths by COVID in the official figures have increased by only 27.7 percent.

Scenes at Crematoriums Much More Horrifying Than What Govt Figures Depict

A report by Dainik Jagran in its Kanpur edition, on 30 April, cited Health Department statistics as saying that 196 people died in Kanpur between 17 and 29 April. However, according to statistics of the Municipal Corporation's Electric Crematorium, 1,044 crmations were carried out. Of this, 912 people were cremated at Bhairav Ghat and 132 at Bhagwat Das Ghat.

The situation was said to be so bad that there was a day-long wait for cremations.

In view of the increase in number of dead bodies at the Bhairav Ghat Electric crematorium, wood is also being used since 19 April for cremations.

How Many Are Really Dying in UP? The Curious Case of Two Cities
(Photo Courtesy: Screenshot/Dainik Jagran)
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Amar Ujala also published in its Kanpur edition that 476 dead bodies were cremated in the city in one day. Due to shortage of space for cremations on the ghats for five consecutive days, by 8 o'clock on the fifth night, cremations started taking place on the sand by the river and in parks. Given the increased numbers, a token system had to be introduced in the electric crematorium.

Meanwhile, as per the official figures, the death toll from COVID on that day was only 3! If 90 to 100 dead bodies are cremated at the ghats on normal days, how did an addition of mere 3 COVID deaths take the toll of total bodies cremated to 476?

How Many Are Really Dying in UP? The Curious Case of Two Cities
(Photo Courtesy: Screenshot/Amar Ujala)

Grieving Teachers’ Union Struggles To Get Deaths Acknowledged by Govt

The Uttar Pradesh Primary Teachers’ Association had written a letter to the State Election Commission, on 12 April, demanding protection for teachers from COVID-19. After that, they had written another letter on 28 April.

After that, once again on 29 April, they had written to both the chief minister and the State Election Commission, demanding postponement of the state panchayat elections.

By then, according to them, 706 teachers/staff had died due to COVID during training and voting. Along with their letter, the Union had attached a list with name, post, school, development area and district of the deceased teacher/staff.

Even after that, the counting of votes was not stopped. Now, according to the teachers’ union, the number of teachers/staff who died from COVID has reached 1,621. Meanwhile, the government is officially considering only three deaths.

Government Data Says ‘All is Well’

The picture that the figures posted by the Uttar Pradesh government paint is not as frightening as the sight of countless dead bodies on river banks, state crematoriums and in the rivers themselves.

Uttar Pradesh is also among the five most COVID-impacted states in the country. According to official figures, as of 20 May, 19,209 people have died in Uttar Pradesh due to the coronavirus. Only Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Delhi have seen more deaths.

Comparing the population density and health infrastructure of these states with that of Uttar Pradesh, it would appear that the Government of Uttar Pradesh is managing the crisis really well.

Also, surprisingly, according to CERG Chairman Omkar Goswami, on 26 April, when coronavirus peaked in Uttar Pradesh, its positivity rate was 19.3 percent, which was 9.7 percent lower than the peak seen in Maharashtra, 20.4 percent lower than Karnataka, 10.4 percent than Kerala, 1.9 percent than Tamil Nadu and 6 percent less than India overall.

However, if you peek from the Phaphamau bridge of Prayagraj down to the banks of the holy river Ganga, you will see hundreds of bodies astrew. How many of these deaths occurred due to coronavirus is not yet officially known.

Perhaps these bodies, too, have emerged from the river to ask how did they really die?

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(This piece was originally published in Quint Hindi and has been translated and republished. Read the original story here.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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