Karnataka

On way to flattening

Print edition : May 22, 2020

Migrants throng the KSRTC bus stand in Bengaluru on May 3. Photo: G.R.N. SOMASHEKAR

Thermal screening of migrants waiting to board the bus at the KSRTC bus stand in Bengaluru on May 3. Photo: G.R.N. SOMASHEKAR

Faced with a money crunch, Karnataka resorts to partial easing of lockdown measures. The number of COVID cases stabilises in the State, but its death rate at 4 per cent is the highest in the south.

Karnataka appears to have achieved reasonable success in restricting the spread of the coronavirus infection with the State recording a significant drop in the number of new cases. The State’s tally as on May 5 stood at 659 cumulative cases, 28 deaths and 324 recovered patients. Bengaluru with 166 cases and Mysuru with 90 (two patients belong to Kerala) were the districts with the highest number of COVID-19 positive cases. The State expanded its testing capacity substantially with close to 80,000 samples being tested since mid April. Karnataka was among the top five States affected by the contagion in March, but in early May it moved to the 13th position.

The B.S. Yediyurappa government announced relaxation in lockdown measures across the State on May 4, when the third phase of the national lockdown commenced. The Centre placed three districts—Bengaluru Rural and Urban and Mysuru—in the “red zone”. But the State government introduced relaxations even in these districts.

Standalone shops were allowed to open and restrictions on day traffic were removed. The government also allowed inter-district travel with permission for one-way journey for the benefit of stranded migrants. Industries were allowed to function with one-third strength. The relaxations did not apply in containment zones identified within the red zones. Liquor shops were allowed to open with sales on the first day (May 4) netting Rs.45 crore. Bengaluru saw a long queue outside liquor outlets with people not following physical distancing norms.

One of the reasons for the partial easing of lockdown in the red zone districts was the fund crunch in the government. Bengaluru contributes 60 per cent of the State’s gross domestic product (GDP). There was a demand for the easing of lockdown norms in the city to mop up revenue. Revenue Minister R. Ashok suggested that the city should be further subdivided into four colour-coded zones depending on the number of cases recorded there so that economic activity could begin in non-coded areas. Of the 198 wards in Bengaluru, 24 were designated as containment zones, the majority of them falling in the east and south divisions. There was considerable relaxation in lockdown measures in the rest of the city. However, a dusk-to-dawn curfew, from 7 p.m. to 7a.m., was in force.

Minister of Primary and Secondary Education S. Suresh Kumar, who has been tasked with briefing the media on COVID-related issues, told Frontline that “the decision to open up Bengaluru, while placing restrictions in the containment and buffer zones, was taken to achieve a balance between life and livelihood.” He said it was positive news that the average recovered patients per day in the State was significantly higher than the number of new cases, meaning Karnataka could well be on its way to “flattening the curve”.

But a sudden spurt in cases in Davanagere, classified as green zone by the Centre, showed the virus was unpredictable. Davanagere reported 22 new cases on May 3 and 4, with 19 cases traced to a single source, designated as P-533, a nurse in a city hospital. “We are still investigating how the nurse contracted the disease. We are aware that she attended a marriage in Bagalkot,” Suresh Kumar said. Despite the spike in cases, how does Davanagere continue to remain in the green zone? Pankaj Pandey, Commissioner, Health and Family Welfare, explained: “The list of districts is updated every week by the Central government on the basis of four criteria. There will be a change in Davanagere’s status next week.”

Karnataka’s death rate, at around 4 per cent, was highest among the southern States and higher than the national average. Suresh Kumar said, “Private hospitals are not informing us of COVID-19 patients immediately. If they report to us sooner, we will be able to take better care of the patients.”

Karnataka allowed migrant workers stranded in Bengaluru to return to their home towns from May 2 following an order from the Union Home Ministry. Lakhs of workers reached the Kempegowda bus stand on foot from different parts of the city. But they were in for a surprise as the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) charged exorbitant fares. The Chief Minister had announced that only one-way fare would be charged, but many migrants could not afford even that.

Senior Congress leaders, led by the State party president D.K. Shivakumar, arrived at the spot and after interacting with the workers gave a cheque for Rs.1 crore to the KSRTC as payment towards the migrant workers’ bus fare. Shivakumar said it was “pathetic that the State government could not afford to send the workers back to their homes”. Until the morning of May 4, some 30,000 migrant workers, many of them from northern Karnataka, had left Bengaluru in 951 government buses. After Shivakumar’s intervention and the adverse reportage in the media, they were not charged for their trip.

Four trains with more than 6,000 migrant workers departed from Bengaluru for Patna, Ranchi, Bhubhaneswar and Jaipur. It was reported that passengers bound for Patna were charged Rs.1,050 for a sleeper class ticket contrary to BJP leaders’ claim that the fare would be heavily subsidised. Workers employed in the construction of Bengaluru Metro rail line clashed with the police on May 3 when they gathered to demand pending salaries and arrangements for their journey back home.

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