Karnataka recorded 1.02 lakh ‘excess’ deaths in 2021, 5 times the COVID-19 toll

Bengaluru city alone has registered 87,082 deaths from all causes from January to June 15, 2021, as per BBMP data.
 A PPE suit worn official taking care of a tradiational cremation site
A PPE suit worn official taking care of a tradiational cremation site

This story is a part of the TNM COVID-19 reporting project. To support this project, make a payment here

Karnataka has recorded 3,37,580 (3.37 lakh) deaths from all causes between January 1 and June 15 this year, according to its civil registration system (CRS). This is many more than the deaths recorded between January and June in pre-pandemic years. While in 2019 there were 2.35 lakh deaths in this six month period, the state saw 2.24 lakh deaths between January and June in 2018.

This means Karnataka has reported an ‘excess’ of 1,02,429 deaths between January 1 and June 15, 2021 compared to the January 1-June 30 period in 2019. Worryingly, this number is five times the official COVID-19 death toll of 21,048 recorded for the period in the state. While not all of these ‘excess’ deaths may be due to COVID-19, a majority are likely to be, believe experts — but this has not been reflected in the state’s medical bulletins. It must also be noted that this number is likely to go up significantly as the laws mandate that a death should be notified only within 21 days of occurrence. 

On average, Karnataka issued 4,57,669 death certificates for five years between 2015 and 2019. The number of mortalities have gradually increased year-on-year. (Note: The all-cause mortality data from Karnataka for 2020 is not available.)

Deaths in June

From June 1 to June 15 this year, Karnataka has recorded 55,627 deaths, as per CRS data. In 30 days of June in 2019, the total number of deaths recorded in the state stood at 37,403. That means 15 days of June in 2021 have already recorded a 48.7% increase in the number of deaths compared to all of June 2019. In other words, if the next 15 days in the month see deaths recorded at the same rate as the first 15 days, the number of deaths for the month will almost double, compared to 2019. 

Bengaluru mortality 

Much of these all-cause deaths reported from the state, unsurprisingly, seem to be concentrated in Bengaluru. Data from the CRS shows that Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) or the Bengaluru City Corporation has approved 87,082 applications for death certificates from January 1 to June 15, 2021.  

Though the BBMP data is not available for the same period in pre-pandemic years, Bengaluru Urban district — that includes BBMP and other zones — recorded only 37,195 deaths between January 1 and June 30 in 2019. In 2018, during the same six-month period, Bengaluru Urban recorded 35,262 deaths. This data set clearly shows that many more people died within the BBMP limits compared to previous years, however this is not reflected in the COVID-19 death data. The BBMP has recorded only 21,048 deaths from January 1 and June 15, 2021.

Speaking to TNM about the ‘excess’ deaths in 2021, Dr Anand Lakshman, a public health professional and CEO of Address Health said, “At the half yearly point, it appears that the deaths are significantly higher and definitely there is undercounting. This can be attributed to multiple factors. Other than underreporting of COVID-19 deaths, lack of access to healthcare as a result of the lockdown, or fear to access healthcare, anxiety and other pandemic induced reasons could be reasons for the ‘excess deaths’. It will be a better analysis if we go by annual data of 2020 and 2021.” 

“But it is hard to conclusively tell the extent of COVID deaths that are undercounted deliberately or missed due to ignorance. Also, the death rate changes every year due to the change in population structure. So we need to do a large scale population based survey to establish how many of the deaths are counted in CRS. The Census will capture all this,” he added.

All data charts figures from Civil Registration System

This story is a part of the TNM COVID-19 reporting project. To support this project, make a payment here.

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