Hyderabad: Every time a question is asked about the Telangana government’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic, or when uncomfortable queries are raised about the disease data that it reports, the state’s Health Department wraps itself tighter in its cloak of secrecy.
Over the past four months, several changes have been made to the daily COVID-19 bulletin, be it relating to testing, number of cases, or the number of people ‘discharged’ (the government still does not explain in the bulletin how many of those ‘discharged’ daily are actually ‘cured’).
And on Saturday evening, the very home page of the Telangana Government’s health department went offline. Attempts to get to the website http://health.telangana.gov.in/ were met with a message: ‘The requested service is temporarily unavailable. It is either overloaded or under maintenance. Please try later.’
Deccan Chronicle first reported on Saturday morning that an associated webpage of this site -- http://126.96.36.199/COVID/statistics.htm -- which provides real-time updates on COVID-19 cases in across the state, disappeared from the online world. And by evening, the home page of the health department itself disappeared.
It was this website -- http://188.8.131.52/COVID/statistics.htm -- that was in the middle of a serious controversy in the first week of July when it was discovered that the number of COVID-19 cases displayed on the website was vastly different from the ones released every day in the COVID-19 bulletin by the health department. The question was about the two very different sets of data, with the bulletin showing a nearly 3,000 difference with the website showing a higher number.
The difference in numbers instantly became controversial with not just the reports on it shared very widely on social media platforms but with opposition political parties jumping on the issue and claiming that this issue yet again highlighted the lackadaisical approach of the Telangana government to COVID-19 control and management.
The health department subsequently claimed that the numbers on the website were not added to the COVID-19 bulletins owing to confusion over the validity of tests conducted by some private labs that showed ‘abnormal’ rates of disease positivity. There were also official claims that the bulletin has a cut-off time of cases reported till 5 p.m. while the website reflected live updates.
However, the website where live updates could be checked has since been taken down as has the homepage from where the page on ‘statistics’ could be accessed.
The website of the health department – health.telangana.gov.in – when last checked and found functional on Friday evening, showed a link ‘COVID-19’ with the word ‘New’ blinking next to it. It was upon clicking on this COVID-19 link that one would be taken to the website – 184.108.40.206/COVID/home.htm – which displayed a tab that said ‘statistics’. However, this tab was never activated but by substituting the word ‘home’, with ‘statistics’ in the webpage’s url, one could access the statistics page with regular updates on COVID-19 numbers in Telangana.
As on Friday evening, the ‘COVID-19’ link on the ‘health.telangana.gov.in’ was no longer active and clicking on it took a person to a page that says ‘the requested resource in not available,’ instead of the page with the url 220.127.116.11/COVID/home.htm, that was the home page for the ‘Department of Health & Family Welfare, Government of Telangana, COVID-19’ which also displayed a picture of chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao and health minister Etala Rajendar....