There is a pattern, where the numbers of COVID-19 patients in Chennai increases beyond declared numbers on certain dates. This is what’s been happening.

Two health workers at a testing centre Image for representation/PTI
news Coronavirus Monday, June 22, 2020 - 19:32

In the last two days, 98 COVID-19 cases were ‘surreptitiously’ added to Chennai’s total count in the Tamil Nadu health bulletin. 

Chennai had recorded 1,322 new COVID-19 cases, as per the June 19 bulletin. These were all local or ‘indigenous’ cases, and took the overall tally of these local cases to 38,305. However, instead of this cumulative figure, the following day’s bulletin stated that Chennai had 38,365 indigenous cases as of June 19. This meant that 60 patients were added to Chennai’s case tally. There was no mention of where these cases had come from, and why the district’s count had suddenly shot up. 

The June 21 bulletin also witnessed a similar trend. While the June 20 bulletin stated that Chennai had recorded 1,254 local cases, the cumulative count for the city should have been 39,619 instead of 39,657 listed under the column ‘indigenous cases’ till June 20. The math once again didn’t add up. There were 38 cases that were suddenly added to Chennai’s indigenous case count, with no explanation.    

TNM analysed the bulletin for June 19, June 20 and June 21 and this is what we found. 

The June 20 bulletin cross-notified – or shifted on paper – 79 patients who had tested positive from 12 districts to four others. A majority of these patients were cross-notified to the capital city, with eight and seven cases added to neighbouring Chengalpattu and Kanchipuram respectively. So where were these cases coming from? 

At least 25 patients were removed from Ramanathapuram’s tally, while Sivagangai saw 17 cases deleted, and Ranipet’s numbers dropped by nine.  

In fact, three cases that were earlier classified as ‘indigenous’ were later cross-notified to the ‘imported case’ category and listed under the Railway Surveillance.  

The June 21 bulletin had cross-notified 46 COVID-19 patients. Thirty eight out of the 46 cases were added to Chennai’s figures, four to Chengalpattu, two to Thirupathur, and one each to Vellore and Coimbatore. This time, 27 cases were deleted from Sivagangai’s case tally, and 18 from Nagapattinam.  

The practice of cross-notifying cases, however, is not new and has been going on since May when restrictions for inter-district travel were eased following the lockdown.    

An official from the Tamil Nadu Health Department speaking to TNM said, “If a patient tests positive in Salem, but has arrived from Chennai, his case is added to the Chennai tally. This is because for the purpose of contact tracing, most of his contacts are in Chennai.”

The official further said that there is a committee that looks into this process. The official added that while this is done for districts, the practice is not followed for cases from other states: “A person arriving from Mumbai to Chennai isn’t added to the Mumbai case count.” He, however, added that the Tamil Nadu government was looking at how other states were notifying their cases. 

However, experts like T Sundararaman, the former director of the National Health Systems Resource Centre, said cross-notification would give districts a false sense of security. 

“As long as they are following up in the districts, it’s alright. These are games people play but it is important that if a person tested positive in the district, he must have infected people there.” 

He also added that the Tamil Nadu government has been trying to build a certain narrative around the COVID-19 pandemic. “The important thing is you must test vigorously even when there are no clusters,” he said. 

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