MUMBAI: Nearly 21,000 more deaths (about 23%) were recorded last year in Mumbai compared to 2019—it was 1.1 lakh in 2020 and 91,223 the previous year—underscoring the impact the pandemic had on the population. The official Covid fatality count is 11,116, which accounts for barely half the spike in mortalities and thus leaves an incomplete picture of the exact toll. The trend has been seen worldwide with a large percentage of excess deaths in the pandemic year not being included in official Covid toll.
Mumbai also had a sharp 19% drop in births last year, reveals BMC data, owing to factors such as the migrant exodus and pregnancies deferred during the outbreak.
Experts say the remaining ‘non-Covid’ mortalities may likely include people who could not access healthcare on time and passed away at home, or died due to Covid but remained undiagnosed.
‘Mumbai saw 24% rise in mortality over previous 5-year average’
In all, the city had 1.11 lakh deaths from all causes in 2020, up nearly 23% from 2019 (91,223) and 26% over 2018 (88,852). Covid-19 accounted for 10% of them and 54% of the additional deaths over the previous year.
While the city’s first positive cases were detected in March, Mumbai saw big surges in mortality starting May. The trend continued till July before returning to a normal range of 8,000-9,000 deaths per month in August. May, by far, had the highest death registrations (14,328) compared to 7,335 and 7,407 in the corresponding period in 2019 and 2018 respectively. The complete month-wise data for 2020 is not yet public.
Murad Banaji, a London-based mathematician who tracks Mumbai’s Covid graph, tweeted, “2020 data shows a huge 24% rise in mortality over the previous 5-year average.” Dr Mangala Gomare, BMC’s executive health officer, said ‘cause of death’ reports are still being analysed. “Once those are finalised, we will have a clearer picture of what contributed to higher fatalities,” she said. A civic official said while calculating excess mortality, one must factor in the year-on-year rise of 2%-2.5% in deaths.
According to P Arokiasamy, professor at International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), all-cause deaths are a crucial tool to understand the devastation wrought by the pandemic. “Due to the strict lockdown, unavailability of transport and closure of many hospitals, chronic patients of cancer, kidney disease, hypertension and diabetes suffered immense hardships as they couldn’t access medical care. An age-wise analysis will provide a better picture as the pandemic affected older population disproportionately,” he said, adding that migration too took its toll as those displaced could not access basic care.
Studying excess mortality could bring unique insights to the pandemic’s real impact on a city, said Dr Avinash Supe, head of Covid death audit committee.
The world over, lakhs of more people died during the pandemic year, who were not in official Covid death counts. US, for instance, has reportedly had 17% excess deaths between March and December, while badly-hit countries like Brazil and Spain have seen between 21% to 23%.
As far as births go, the drop in Mumbai is a direct fallout of migration and the economic hardships it brought, said Arokiasamy. The city had 1.20 lakh births, a steep decline from 1.48lakh births in 2019. “While Mumbai has been seeing a nearly 2% year-on-year decline in births, a 19% drop was exponential,” said a civic official.
Reasons could range from people returning to their hometowns, cancelled weddings, delayed pregnancies. “Historically, child births have always taken a hit during a health or economic crisis,” said Arokiasamy.
A civic official said many women from the Mumbai Metropolitan Region who deliver in Mumbai’s hospitals could not access them during the lockdown and that may have dented numbers. “It will be interesting to see if Mumbai’s satellite towns have seen corresponding rise in births,” he said.