Stable for now

Print edition : July 03, 2020

Folk artists perform at the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur after the Rajasthan government decided to reopen historical monuments, forts and museums for tourists, on June 1. Photo: Rohit Jain Paras

Migrant families travel to their villages during the fifth phase of the nationwide lockdown, in Beawar on June 3. They travelled 591 kilometres from Uttar Pradesh to Pali in Rajasthan. Photo: PTI

The COVID-19 infection threatened to go out of control at least twice in Rajasthan, but the government managed to retrieve the situation each time.

THE government of Rajasthan, which tided over a phase of political uncertainty when some attempts were allegedly made to topple the government, seems to have handled the COVID-19 situation fairly well.

On June 10, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot expressed concern about the emergence of fresh cases between June 1 and June 10, which he felt was caused by greater inter-State movement in the “Unlock-1” period. He cautioned that the inter-State movement of people must be regulated and that people moving in and out of the State should be screened. He also said that home quarantine should be strictly followed.

The State twice faced a situation when the number of active cases threatened to become overwhelming, yet on both occasions it managed to stabilise the situation. The more recent occasion on which it managed to do so was in the period when the lockdown restrictions were eased.

On April 1, Rajasthan had 120 confirmed cases, but the figure increased to 1,888 by April 22. The number of active cases increased from 117 to 1,517 in the same period. After that, while new cases continued to be reported, the number of recoveries neutralised the spike so that the number of active cases remained stable. On May 10, the number of active cases was down to 1,465.

In the two weeks after that, however, the number of confirmed cases rose from 3,814 on May 10 to 7,536 on May 26; and the number of active cases more than doubled to 3,090. But then again the daily recoveries compensated for the new cases being reported. So on June 15, there were only 2,895 active cases. This meant that the State had achieved a 75.38 per cent recovery rate by June 15, which was way ahead of the national average of 52.47 per cent. Also, the fatality rate (deaths as a percentage of the confirmed cases) at 2.32 per cent was lower than the national average of 2.89 per cent.

High testing rates

Rajasthan has conducted 7,886 tests per million of the population against 4,312 in Gujarat, 5,620 in Maharashtra, 6,624 in Haryana and 3,138 in Madhya Pradesh. The positivity ratio has been low as a result of high testing. As of June 15, Rajasthan had 12,981 confirmed cases out of 6,09,296 samples tested, which gives a positivity ratio of 2.13 per cent against the national positivity ratio of 5.8 per cent.

COVID cases in Rajasthan seem to be more thinly spread over a wider geographical area and are not concentrated in a few hotspots, unlike in other States. In Madhya Pradesh, out of 10,935 cases, almost 58 per cent were concentrated in Indore and Bhopal. In Maharashtra, Mumbai alone accounted for almost 54 per cent of the cases while Thane and Pune together accounted for 28 per cent of the cases. In Gujarat, Ahmedabad accounted for over 70 per cent of the cases, followed by Surat with 11 per cent. In comparison, in Rajasthan the highest number of cases is in Jaipur, which accounted for 19.1 per cent of the cases, followed by Jodhpur with under 17 per cent, and Bharatpur and Pali at 8.16 and 6.18 per cent respectively. Udaipur, Nagaur and Kota lay between 4 and 5 per cent each in terms of confirmed cases. Therefore, the cases in Rajasthan have a wider geographical spread compared with other States where cases tend to be concentrated in a few hotspots. This poses some unique challenges to containment.

Between May 25 and June 15, 5,681 cases were added to the 7,300 confirmed cases that the State had on May 25. This was less than the numbers added in the same period in Haryana, even though the latter had only 1,213 cases on May 25. According to the State government data on COVID facilities in the State, there are 25,490 isolation beds apart from 7,028 oxygen-supported beds, 1,753 ICU beds and 899 ventilators distributed among dedicated COVID hospitals, COVID health centres and dedicated COVID centres. Since the number of active confirmed cases never crossed 3,000, a substantial part of this infrastructure must have been organised at the expense of possible non-COVID treatment.

Public health experts like Narendra Gupta, who is part of the People’s Health Movement, feel that non-COVID patients were ignored in this entire period. In Jaipur, for instance, the Sawai Man Singh Government Hospital and the ESI hospital were converted to COVID hospitals, leaving patients suffering from other ailments at the mercy of private hospitals.

According to Anil Goswami, who represents the Rajasthan Nagrik Manch, which is a broad front of civil society organisations, the emergence of cases in parts of Mewar and Marwar regions might have been caused by the return of migrant workers from Surat and Ahmedabad in Gujarat. Rajasthan, which is an origin as well as a destination State for migrants, seemed to have mixed success as far as the movement of migrants to and from the State was concerned. Goswami said that while there was a record of the migrant workers who travelled by buses and train, there was little record of those who walked back home.

There were other problems, too. “In the Shramik trains, there was hardly any social distancing. We were there helping distribute food and water, and we saw the situation,” Goswami said. He also felt that in some districts like Bundi, Pratapgarh or Ganganagar, the actual number of infections would not come to light as testing facilities were not available, and the district hospitals were in a bad shape.

“The samples of cases in Bundi district would be sent to Kota and it would take three days for results to come. Similarly, samples taken in Dholpur would be sent to a testing centre in Bharatpur. Whether the samples are sent with proper paraffin wrapping is not known. In many places, small private clinics are charging the moon for treating non-COVID patients. In villages, quarantining does not work. A quarantined person is allowed to graze his cattle and then return to the camp. Now the government itself is saying that people should quarantine themselves at home. The quarantine facilities are being closed down,” he said. The Rajasthan government, he said, had not yet allowed the opening up of places of religious worship, which was a good thing.

Rajasthan has a relatively low population density. Its cities are not as densely populated as metros like Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi or Ahmedabad. This might have worked to Rajasthan’s advantage. In view of the impending monsoon, the government has planned a special awareness campaign involving health workers between June 21 and June 30 in order to ensure that unlocking is accompanied by the necessary precautions.

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