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Gujarat Now India’s Covid Spread Model, But Much Concealed

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By now , India is used to the hype over the ‘Gujarat model of development’ imposed on India since 2014 — poor human development but a huge boost to crony capitalism with stupendous political linkages through covert funding.

But in the C-virus pandemic season, the country is experiencing a new Gujarat model — on how to fail arresting the pandemic and still be able to conceal much of the damage .

At the last weekend , Gujarat became  the third Indian state to cross the milestone of 10,000 Covid-19 infections in only 58 days since the first case was reported in the state. 

State health department data points to  350 cases on an average being reported every day in May as compared with 143 infections a day in April.

On Saturday night, total Covid-19 cases in Gujarat were 10,989, with Maharashtra leading with 30,706 and Tamil Nadu with 10,585 cases just behind Gujarat. 

 Saturday’s 1,057 new Covid cases was the highest single-day spike in Gujarat with more than  700 vegetable vendors testing positive in Ahmedabad alone.

On May 1, there were 4,721 Covid-19 cases in the state. 

The increase of 6,268 till the May 16, put the doubling rate of the infection at 11.9 days. 

India’s current doubling rate is 13.9 days.

On Saturday, fatalities in Gujarat reached 625 with 5.68% death rate. The national average is 3.02%, so Gujarat joins West Bengal with 6.21 percent (with 160 fatalities) and Madhya Pradesh with 6.1 percent(with 239 fatalities) at the top three of the fatality rate for Indian states.

The secretary to Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani told Easternlink the government’s priority was to test every symptomatic person, enforce a hard lockdown, create additional medical facilities in all major hospitals, and deploy additional medical personnel in containment zones.

“We are conducting round-the-clock monitoring of containment areas and have prepared a medical database of all persons above 60 years of age in the state. The best way to check Covid is effective monitoring,” said Ashwini Kumar, secretary to the chief minister.

The first reaction of the Gujarat government to Covid-19 was slow and many people did not abide by guidelines of the lockdown, which was imposed on March 25 to slow the spread of Covid-19, according to Vidyut Desai, the chairman of Academy of Medical Sciences, which is a body of health care professionals.

“Those with symptoms were tested as per the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) protocol, and the rest were asked to remain in home quarantine,” said an official of the civic body who preferred anonymity.

Then on March 20, a video went viral on social media, showing a West Asia returnee shopping for vegetables in an Ahmedabad market. 

Several other videos surfaced, purportedly showing people who were supposed to be in home quarantine moving out of their houses.

Complete lockdown was never properly imposed and contact tracing of patients was not done properly. 

The government did not properly monitor persons coming from abroad to Ahmedabad, Surat and Vadodra, the three cities which contribute 90% of all cases in the state,” the civic body official said.

The state began recording a spike after mid-April even as the government ramped up testing facilities . Between March 19 and April 15, Gujarat tested just 29,104 samples.

 But between then and May 15, the number rose significantly to 124,708 tests, taking tests per million in the state to 1,858.  

Tip of the Iceberg 

But what is officially admitted is perhaps only the tip of the iceberg.

An Easternlink investigation only in Ahmedabad points to at least 733 burials in four Muslim graveyards as against Gujarat’s total official death figure of 586 declared till May 15 afternoon.

Assuming some of these could be natural deaths like old age ailments, sources in the graveyards said most deaths were Covid patients because even relatives observed social distancing in burial ceremonies .

No analysis of the death figures of Hindus due to Covid-19 could be done because of a near-total lack of data from crematoria in and on the fringes of Ahmedabad. 

Multiple sources in the Gujarat capital, including at the Ahmedabad Muncipal Corporation (AMC), said there is a complete and almost deliberate clampdown on figures related to the cremation of Hindu victims of Covid-19 at the crematoria.

This makes the analysis and examination of the total death figures incomplete, but the ‘Muslim deaths’ alone nails the state government’s official number (586 on May 15) and exposes a mechanism that has facilitated the suppression and concealment of the number of Covid-19 casualties.

For the purposes of this investigation, data from four Muslim burial grounds in and on the fringes of Ahmedabad — Musa Suhag Graveyard (located in Shahibag), Chartoda Graveyard (in Gomtipur), Chhipa Graveyard in Jamalpur and Ganj Shohda Graveyard in Behrampura — were obtained by accessing documents and registers.

The expose first appeared in a big way a few days ago in an Ahmedabad-based Gujarati newspaper, Divya Bhaskar, which put out a lot of numbers but these were not put through any  numerical rigour (comparative analysis) which would have otherwise shown the “Covid-19 deaths bump”. This story attempts to do so.

This vernacular newspaper’s story was neither disputed nor contested by the state government which, however, tightened and stopped further “leakage” of Covid-19-related numbers, especially from the Hindu crematoria where the number of bodies brought in for their last rites is being suspected — even by conservative estimates — to be three times as many as the burials recorded at the four Muslim graveyards which are managed by trusts and are not directly under the control of the AMC.

According to documents that emanated from Musa Suhag Graveyards, in February, March, April and May of 2019, 82, 69, 71 and 66 bodies, respectively, were buried. In the same months of 2020, 80, 78, 139 and 105 (till May 10) bodies were buried at this graveyard. The ‘bump’, as evidenced in April and May, is quite large: 68 and 83 “extra” bodies, after proportionately scaling back the May 2019 deaths, were buried at Musa Suhag Graveyard, clearly pointing to the fact these “excess” burials were of persons who died because of Covid-19.

The figures that emanated from Ganj Shodha Graveyard, perhaps the largest in Ahmedabad, is even more startling and revealing. In February, March, April and May of 2019, 69, 74, 66 and 72 bodies were buried at this graveyard. The corresponding figures for the same months in 2020 are 68, 80, 190 and 260 (till May 15).

After scaling back proportionately and adjusting for the May death figures, especially because burial data in some graveyards are till May 10 and in others are till May 15, the final, aggregate comparative numbers for all the four burial grounds show that the largest ‘bumps’ are in April (371) and May (390) of 2020, which conclusively proves that a total of 733 bodies (Covid-19 deaths) were buried when the virus raged the most at that time. And, 733 is way above the 586 death toll that the state government claimed for all of Gujarat till May 15 afternoon when this report was being prepared.

While the BJP government of chief minister Vijay Rupani has taken a lot of flak for the manner in which Coronavirus positive and death numbers have been manipulated, “thin” data from a Hindu crematorium is as much revealing as those from the four graveyards. In the first 10 days of April and May 2020, the Saptarishi Samshan Gruha (in Jamalpur), recorded 74 and 191 cremations, respectively, leading some state Congress leaders to question the Rupani government’s “suppression” of the “real and actual” figures. 

“There is no doubt that the state government is concealing Covid-19 numbers, including number of cases and deaths,” Gujarat Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi told this reporter, adding that similar concealment and suppression of the real numbers “is taking place in other parts of Gujarat”.

Multiple BJP spokespersons refused to comment on details, merely blaming Opposition for a “lot of untruths” floating around.

Covid-19 transmission and/or infection, stood at 733, as against Gujarat’s total official death figure of 586 declared till May 15 afternoon, a careful and rigorous numerical analysis of data from only four major graveyards in and around the city has revealed.

No analysis of the death figures of Hindus due to Covid-19 could be done because of a near-total lack of data from crematoria in and on the fringes of Ahmedabad. Multiple sources in the Gujarat capital, including at the Ahmedabad Muncipal Corporation (AMC), said there is a complete and almost deliberate clampdown on figures related to the cremation of Hindu victims of Covid-19 at the crematoria.

This makes the analysis and examination of the total death figures incomplete, but the ‘Muslim deaths’ alone nails the state government’s official number (586 on May 15) and exposes a mechanism that has facilitated the suppression and concealment of the number of Covid-19 casualties.

Also Read: Profiting From Covid-19? Gujarat Firm Gets Edge Over Others

For the purposes of this investigation, data from four Muslim burial grounds in and on the fringes of Ahmedabad — Musa Suhag Graveyard (located in Shahibag), Chartoda Graveyard (in Gomtipur), Chhipa Graveyard in Jamalpur and Ganj Shohda Graveyard in Behrampura — were obtained by accessing documents and registers.

The expose first appeared in a big way a few days ago in an Ahmedabad-based Gujarati newspaper, Divya Bhaskar, which put out a lot of numbers but these were not put through any  numerical rigour (comparative analysis) which would have otherwise shown the “Covid-19 deaths bump”. This story attempts to do so.

This vernacular newspaper’s story was neither disputed nor contested by the state government which, however, tightened and stopped further “leakage” of Covid-19-related numbers, especially from the Hindu crematoria where the number of bodies brought in for their last rites is being suspected — even by conservative estimates — to be three times as many as the burials recorded at the four Muslim graveyards which are managed by trusts and are not directly under the control of the AMC.

According to documents that emanated from Musa Suhag Graveyards, in February, March, April and May of 2019, 82, 69, 71 and 66 bodies, respectively, were buried. In the same months of 2020, 80, 78, 139 and 105 (till May 10) bodies were buried at this graveyard. The ‘bump’, as evidenced in April and May, is quite large: 68 and 83 “extra” bodies, after proportionately scaling back the May 2019 deaths, were buried at Musa Suhag Graveyard, clearly pointing to the fact these “excess” burials were of persons who died because of Covid-19.

The figures that emanated from Ganj Shodha Graveyard, perhaps the largest in Ahmedabad, is even more startling and revealing. In February, March, April and May of 2019, 69, 74, 66 and 72 bodies were buried at this graveyard. The corresponding figures for the same months in 2020 are 68, 80, 190 and 260 (till May 15).

After scaling back proportionately and adjusting for the May death figures, especially because burial data in some graveyards are till May 10 and in others are till May 15, the final, aggregate comparative numbers for all the four burial grounds show that the largest ‘bumps’ are in April (371) and May (390) of 2020, which conclusively proves that a total of 733 bodies (Covid-19 deaths) were buried when the virus raged the most at that time. And, 733 is way above the 586 death toll that the state government claimed for all of Gujarat till May 15 afternoon when this report was being prepared.

Also Read: Gujarat’s Latest Scam On Ventilators, PM-Cares Fund In Spotlight

While the BJP government of chief minister Vijay Rupani has taken a lot of flak for the manner in which Coronavirus positive and death numbers have been manipulated, “thin” data from a Hindu crematorium is as much revealing as those from the four graveyards. In the first 10 days of April and May 2020, the Saptarishi Samshan Gruha (in Jamalpur), recorded 74 and 191 cremations, respectively, leading some state Congress leaders to question the Rupani government’s “suppression” of the “real and actual” figures. 

“There is no doubt that the state government is concealing Covid-19 numbers, including number of cases and deaths,” Gujarat Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi told this reporter, adding this similar concealment and suppression of the real numbers “is taking place in other parts of Gujarat”.

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