Dangerous drop

Print edition : July 03, 2020

Traffic congestion on the Delhi-Gurugram highway on June 1. Photo: PTI

Haryana saw a surge in COVID cases from May-end, and most of the cases were in districts close to Delhi.

HARYANA seemed to have brought the COVID situation under control in the initial weeks of the lockdown, but there was a rapid deterioration from the end of May. There were only 1,213 confirmed cases between March 14 and May 25. By June 15 there were an additional 6,509 cases, the sharpest rate of growth in any State since May 25. Neighbouring Delhi also recorded a surge in this period, but Haryana was ahead of it. Haryana’s doubling rate (the number of days over which cases double) at present is half of the national average. The number of active cases, which had stayed under 500 for most of May, increased to 4,057 by June 15. This surge explains why Haryana’s recovery rate at 46.17 per cent is lower than the national average of 52.47 per cent.

The contagion seemed to be concentrated in the districts and densely populated urban centres close to Delhi. Gurugram, Faridabad and Sonipat districts account for the bulk of the caseload−5,481 out of 7,722 cumulative cases reported up to June 15, accounting for 71 per cent of the total caseload.

The pattern suggests that this is part of a trend in the National Capital Region. Gurugram accounts for 3,477 cases, or 45 per cent of the State’s caseload. The majority of the cases were found concentrated in the Gurugram Municipal Corporation area.

There are, however, indications that the pandemic may soon acquire a wider geographical spread in Haryana. On June 11, the State Chief Secretary (Medical Education and Research) told the media in Rohtak that the number of COVID patients in the district might go up to one lakh by August. He said that this projection was based on feedback from Pandit Bhagwat Dayal Sharma University of Health Sciences. The authorities had been directed to get 3,500 beds ready as 3 per cent of patients might require oxygen support. As of now, Rohtak accounts for 4.1 per cent of the total cases in the State and 4.6 per cent of the active cases.

Curiously, the surge in Haryana cannot be attributed to increased testing. Between May 1 and May 25, the number of people tested in Haryana increased from 3,0191 to 99,987. In the three weeks after May 25, the rate of testing did not increase as rapidly, and only 1,89,914 tests had been done up to June 15. Haryana’s test positivity ratio (number of positive cases to total samples tested) upto May 25 was exceptionally low at 1.21 per cent, but it jumped to 4.19 per cent by June 15.

Haryana’s fatality rate at 1.3 per cent is lower than the national average of 2.89 per cent but may go up with the increasing proportion of active cases. The low fatality rate shows that the number of critical cases, as of June 15, remains low. There are only about 51 patients on critical support (33 on oxygen support and 18 on ventilator), according to the State government.

It also appears that most patients are in home isolation, rather than in hospitals or COVID care centres. In Gurugram, which accounts for half of the active cases (1,999 as of June 14), as many as 1,509 were in home isolation. According to the district surveillance unit bulletin for Gurugram, only 167 persons were admitted in dedicated COVID hospitals. The surge appears to be related to the easing of lockdown restrictions. It cannot be blamed on the return of migrant workers, as has happened in some States, because Haryana is a destination rather than an origin State for migrants. As late as June 15, migrants were still leaving Haryana for their home towns and villages in other States. The 100th Shramik Express left Haryana on June 15, taking migrants back to Chhattisgarh.

Full wages denied

Jai Bhagwan, general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), told Frontline that only 25-30 per cent of industrial activity was under way and that too only in some big units. The smaller establishments, he said, had not restarted activities. There is a shortage of workers, and even those who have returned to work are reportedly getting paid only for the days they worked. “It’s like a daily wage. Where a worker should be getting Rs.16,000 in a month, he’s getting Rs.10,000 only. These are violations, but the government is turning a blind eye,” he said.

The lockdown has been lifted in several parts and inter-State bus services have resumed operations. But there are not many commuters as people are afraid of catching an infection. Paradoxically, in red zone areas such as Gurugram and Faridabad, social distancing norms are flouted openly, especially after the easing of lockdown curbs. Jai Bhagwan said: “This can explain the surge in cases. Many people, even if they have the symptoms, are not isolating themselves for fear of getting quarantined in some unknown place. They are quarantining themselves at home and infecting others as a result.”

The CITU has held several protests seeking adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers and adequate compensation for the risky work involved. A letter sent by the Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) union on June 9 to the Chief Minister said that health workers did not have adequate sanitisers and PPEs. The union also demanded that workers be tested on a monthly basis as they were vulnerable to infection. The union complained of attacks by anti-social elements on ASHA workers and demanded a risk allowance of Rs.4,000, which the government has not conceded. On June 12, ASHA workers held protests at Primary Health Care (PHC) centres in the State.

While hospitalisation and mortality figures may suggest there is no acute crisis, many people are apparently avoiding getting tested despite developing symptoms. People fear the stigma attached to COVID infection. There are also fears that proper treatment will not be available.

If this trend continues, full resumption of economic activity in an important economic hub like Gurugram, and also elsewhere, may take longer than usual. The deepening of the COVID crisis may also delay the return of migrant labourers, who have left in large numbers.

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