Amid the raging controversy over the actual number of COVID-19 fatalities in Bengal and the need for a committee to audit them, the state government has altered the panel's mandate and it will now not certify whether a patient died due to coronavirus or a pre-existing ailment, a senior member of the team said on Sunday.
He said now the doctors treating COVID-19 patients will certify whether they have died of the viral disease or any other concurrent illness.
The panel formed by the state government on April 3 was in the eye of a political storm, with opposition parties calling it a government's tool to "fudge" the COVID-19 data related to the number of deaths and afflictions.
The West Bengal government had acknowledged on Thursday that 105 Covid-19 positive patients had died in the state till then but insisted the actual death toll from the disease was only 33.
Citing the audit committee findings, Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha had said 72 of the 105 deaths occurred due to severe comorbidities (pre-existing diseases) and that Covid-19 was only incidental in those cases.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the panel member said the committee will now collect random samples from hospitals treating infected patients and study them to find out more about the disease.
"Doctors will follow the recommendations of the audit panel and certify whether a death was because of the coronavirus infection or comorbidities. The experts committee will no longer audit the deaths. It will look into the peculiar cases of COVID-19", he told PTI.
He said the panel had not received any fresh samples since it submitted its report on the 105 deaths.
According to the committee member, the principal objective of the panel was to study the death of COVID-19 patients and find out more about the character of the virus.
"There are several questions in the mind of the common people about the disease. As there is no study or database in this regard, the government wanted set up a treatment and containment protocol to understand the symptoms... and how that kept changing from the preliminary to aggravated stage.
"And in case of deaths, how many days did the virus take to reach that stage when the infected person finally succumbs," he said.
The panel, he said, has formed a list of dos and don'ts for medical practitioners treating novel coronavirus cases and certifying deaths.
"We analysed, researched and formed a list of recommendations for the doctors to treat and certify deaths because of COVID-19," the member said.
The committee will henceforth collect samples from hospitals for examination, and will give necessary suggestions to the health department, if there are new findings.
"This panel will not certify any coronavirus-related death. We will now go for random collection of samples from hospitals. In case of any new or peculiar finding, we will inform the state health department and make our recommendations," he said.
The audit committee had earlier noted that there was scope for improvement in medical record-keeping at COVID-19 hospitals, following which Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha said the health department would soon issue an advisory.
"During our research we found that the death certificates were issued without following the norms set by the WHO and the ICMR for COVID-19 deaths."
"The certificates should have included the immediate cause of death, antecedent cause of death and underlying cause of death. The medical record-keeping requires uniformity and that's the responsibility of hospital authorities," the panelist said.
An advisory, once issued by the government, will definitely help hospitals in understanding the character of the disease and how to deal with it, he said.
West Bengal has officially reported 48 deaths due to COVID-19 till Saturday.
The total number of people infected with the coronavirus stands at 886. Of them, 624 are active cases and 199 have recovered. The Union Health Ministry has put the figure of those stricken by the disease at 922.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)