Karnataka

Rising trend

Print edition : July 03, 2020

Migrants from Uttar Pradesh at Palace Grounds in Bengaluru ready to depart on June 16. Photo: Sudhakara Jain

Collecting samples for swab test of primary contacts of a policeman who tested positive at the Kalasipalya police station in Bengaluru, on June 16. Photo: PTI

With the increasing arrival of domestic travellers from different parts of the country, particularly Maharashtra, Karnataka sees a surge in the number of COVID cases.

KARNATAKA recorded a total of 7,000 COVID-19 cases by the evening of June 14. Strangely, even as the State witnessed a surge in cases, the government did away with the practice of holding evening press conferences. Suresh Kumar, the Minister for Primary and Secondary Education tasked with the job of briefing the press on COVID, had not conducted a single press conference since June 1, busy as he was with the affairs of his own Ministry.

With the increasing arrival of domestic travellers from different parts of the country, particularly Maharashtra, since late May, there has been a surge in the number of cases with a clear correlation between districts that saw a high arrival of returnees and the spike in the number of COVID cases. Seventy per cent of the 7,000 cases in the State were domestic travellers. The majority of them, 4,386 persons, had returned from Maharashtra while 1,340 other cases were their contacts.

Bengaluru Urban had the highest number of cases when the pandemic broke out in the State but this position changed since the start of June, when Udupi district, known for its historical linkages with Mumbai, saw a drastic increase in the number of cases with people returning to their home towns. Udupi district recorded 1,026 cases, the highest in the State, followed by Kalaburagi (896 cases) and Yadgir (809 cases), the two northern districts which are known for seasonal migration, and Bengaluru Urban (690 cases). With the return of migrant workers from other parts of the country, the number of cases in the two northern districts saw a significant increase. Similarly, Vijayapura, Belagavi, Raichur and Dakshina Kannada districts, which also saw a return of migrant workers, witnessed a major increase in the number of cases. Significantly, 3,955 of the 7,000 cases have recovered and have been discharged, with the daily rate of recovery exceeding the number of new cases reported in mid June. The number of deaths stands at 86.

While Karnataka’s testing capacity, in terms of the number of laboratories has gone up, actual testing has come down since the beginning of June to around 7,000 tests a day from a high of around 11,000 a day. Persons displaying symptoms of ILI (influenza like illness) and SARI (severe acute respiratory infection) are being tested on a priority. In spite of a decrease in testing, health officials told Frontline that symptomatic cases among travellers were immediately quarantined and tested. The officials were confident that they would be able to handle any increase in the number of cases as only 14.3 per cent of the 22,872 hospital beds earmarked for COVID-19 patients were in use now.

Call for change in strategy

While government officials are confident that the pandemic is under control, Dr Srinivas Kakkilaya, a doctor based in Mangaluru, said, “It is clear that there is community spread now [meaning that the source of the infections cannot be traced] and there will be a rise in the number of cases over the next two months. Why can’t the government tell the people that there is community spread and change its approach? Why is it still creating panic?” The change in approach Kakkilaya advocated was decentralisation of health services. “The problem should be addressed at a cluster-wise level. Districts are no longer categorised as red or green zones. Instead, houses are sealed now.”

“In the days to come, no lockdown is going to help. It will help to reassure the people that there is no need to panic. Ideally, people should feel reassured of health check-ups, and the Health Department should have mobile units. As it is, 85 per cent of the patients will not show any symptoms. Patients who have symptoms, who are also super spreaders and have comorbidities, should be admitted to hospital,” Kakkilaya said.

This point was reiterated by Dr Anil Kumar Avulappa, a doctor associated with the People’s Health Movement and based in Bagepalli. “The State government is not acknowledging that there is community transmission. If they acknowledged it, they would have to change their whole strategy of tracing-testing-isolation. When COVID-19 is in the community, the health care system should change in such a way that it reaches the people so that people displaying symptoms don’t move about freely. Instead of paying attention to this, the government is extending the insurance model, which will only benefit large corporate hospitals,” Avulappa said.

In Bengaluru, where the number of containment zones increased to 142, houses of patients are being sealed now. Apart from these containment zones, significant economic activity has resumed in most parts of the city. This is when the city is seeing an increasing number of ILI and SARI cases being diagnosed as coronavirus positive. Several parts of Karnataka saw huge gatherings flouting physical distancing rules, leading to fears that people in the State were not vigilant. At Karjagi village in Haveri district, thousands of devotees gathered for the annual festival at the Brahmalingeshwara temple. Health Minister B. Sriramulu participated in a wedding in Ballari on June 15, where a large number of guests had gathered. Photographs of the event, which went viral on social media, showed the Minister on the stage with the married couple without maintaining physical distance or wearing a mask.

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