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NEW DELHI: Responding to media reports that claimed that India’s COVID-19 death toll has been undercounted, the Union Health Ministry on Wednesday called such reports ‘conjectures and speculation without any substantial basis’.

In a statement, the health ministry said the reports, based on data from the National Health Mission’s Health Management Information System (HMIS) compared data from the Civil Registration System (CRS) and drew ‘erroneous inferences’.

Media reports had allegedly cited death numbers reported in the HMIS and said in the absence of other information, these deaths should all be considered as COVID-19 deaths. Over 2,50,000 deaths were from causes not known, the reports added.

“Attributing any death to COVID-19 without any basis than based on empirical data is fallacious and such inferences are mere figments of imagination,” the health ministry said.

The ministry further reiterated the Centre’s transparency in its approach to COVID-19 data management and said a robust system of recording all COVID-19 related deaths already exists.

States and Union Territories update the data in this particular system on a continuous basis, the ministry’s statement said, adding that in order to avoid inconsistency, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) had also issued ‘Guidance for appropriate recording of COVID-19 related deaths in India’.

The ICMR’s guideline aims at the correct recording of all deaths as per ICD-10 codes recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for mortality coding.

“States and UTs have been urged through various formal communications, multiple video conferences and through the deployment of Central teams for correct recording of deaths in accordance with the prescribed guidelines. Union Health Ministry has also regularly emphasized the need for a robust reporting mechanism for monitoring district-wise cases and deaths on a daily basis,” the statement said.

The ministry further said there would ‘always be differences in mortality recorded during a profound and prolonged public health crisis such as COVID pandemic’ and said that well-conducted research studies on mortalities are usually done after the event when data on mortalities are available from reliable sources.

As per the ministry, as many as 4,11,408 lives have been claimed by the coronavirus since it broke out early last year.