COVID-19 Update: KARNATAKA

Rapid rise in COVID-19 cases in Bengaluru

Print edition : May 07, 2021

A fleet of ambulances carrying bodies of COVID-19 victims waiting at a crematorium at Medi Agrahara in Yelahanka, Bengaluru, on April 14. Photo: SUDHAKARA JAIN

A health worker in protective suit directs arriving passengers towards the COVID-19 testing counter outside a train station in Bengaluru on April 11. Photo: Aijaz Rahi/AP

Bengaluru has more than 65 per cent of all active cases recorded in Karnataka in a virulent second wave where the test positivity rate in the State is touching new highs.

Since March, Karnataka is in a dire situation following a troubling second wave of COVID-19 infection. The total number of active cases in the State has been doubling every five to seven days compared with the first wave when the numbers rose gradually. The situation is particularly serious in Bengaluru where the number of reported cases is increasing daily at a rapid rate. The city has more than 65 per cent of all the active cases recorded in the State.

One can gauge the seriousness of the situation by casting a close look at the COVID numbers in the past fortnight. On April 1, 4,991 new COVID cases were reported in the State of which 3,509 were from Bengaluru. The number of cases climbed swiftly to 11,265 by the night of April 13, of which 8,155 (the highest single-day spike since the start of the pandemic) were from Bengaluru. The virulence of the second wave can be understood from the fact that during the first wave Bengaluru recorded its highest single-day spike of 5,121cases only on October 8. This tally has been breached several times since April 1.

There were 34,219 active cases in Karnataka on April 1, with 60,000-odd cases added in the fortnight since then. The number of active cases stood at 85,480 on April 13 of which 63,167 were in Bengaluru. Other cities with more than 2,000 active cases include Bidar, Kalaburagi, Mysuru and Tumakuru. The State also reported between 30 and 70 deaths daily during this period. The test positivity rate, which is the percentage of people testing positive among those tested, is also worryingly high. For instance, the positivity rate on April 13 stood at 9.94 per cent. These numbers show that Karnataka is among the States that are contributing to the national surge in the second wave. According to data from the Health Department, there is no shortage of vaccines. The State had 72 lakh doses of vaccine in stock, of which 61 lakh doses had been administered by April 13.

While Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa stated that there was no plan to impose a complete lockdown as it would impact economic activity in the State, he warned that a stricter curfew would be put in place if cases continued to increase. For now, night curfew is in place in eight cities—Bengaluru, Mysuru, Mangaluru, Kalaburagi, Bidar, Tumakuru, Udupi and Manipal—with highest number of cases. “The numbers are rising every day. We had no choice but to initiate night curfew restrictions. If people do not follow rules, strict action will be taken,” Yediyurappa said while speaking to the media in Raichur.

Also read: Sharp spike in cases in Chhattisgarh

Health Minister Dr K. Sudhakar, speaking to mediapersons after a meeting with the COVID-19 Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) on April 11, stated that the State “may witness a peak by the first week of May, and that the rate of infection may slow down by the end of May.” He said the Health Department would aim at conducting one lakh tests every day. Basing his projection on “estimates made by epidemiologists”, TAC member Dr C.N. Manjunath told the media on the same day that Bengaluru could see upwards of 15,000 cases a day by May.

In a statement a day later, Sudhakar outlined the steps taken to handle the crisis while expressing confidence that the State was ready to handle the surge. He said: “Fifty per cent of hospital beds in private hospitals will be reserved for COVID patients as was done during the first wave,” adding that COVID Care Centres (CCCs), which were used to isolate patients who were asymptomatic or showed mild symptoms during the first wave, would be revived. Other measures include increasing vigilance at State borders to check people coming in from other States. The Minister also referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s advice to the Chief Minister “to focus on micro containment zones”.

While officials of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) have claimed that those with mild symptoms were monitored at their homes, the reality is different. Umasankar. J., a 38-year-old man from Indiranagar in Bengaluru, told Frontline that he was diagnosed with COVID on April 8. “I got a COVID test done when I started feeling feverish and developed body pain. I tested positive but no one from the BBMP has contacted me until now.” He said he went into self-isolation as the symptoms were under control.

Low morale among COVID warriors

Another source of concern is the “low morale” and “disgruntlement” among front line workers such as doctors, data entry collectors and swab collectors contracted by the BBMP. There is a myriad of reasons for this. While workload is one factor, delay in payment of salary and denial of holidays is making them downbeat. There was an instance of two contractual employees of the BBMP manipulating a swab sample on April 12. While the duo was suspended immediately, the issue of how to maintain the stamina of front line workers in this exhausting battle is a source of concern for government authorities.

Also read: Yogi regime takes refuge in hype amid corona surge

Amid the worrying developments, leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) were found campaigning with gusto for the April 17 byelection to two Assembly constituencies and one Lok Sabha seat in northern Karnataka. Images of a large gathering of people without adhering to COVID protocol measures such as wearing of masks and physical distancing in Basavakalyan and Maski were, ironically, shared by official media coordinators of these political parties. Thus, it did not come as a surprise when Pratapgouda Patil, the BJP candidate for Maski, tested positive for COVID. Experts have predicted that the number of cases will go up in these regions over the next weeks in view of the large political gatherings.

In an article for the Kannada weekly Nyaya Patha, the health activist Akhila Vasan who is the convener of the Karnataka Janarogya Chaluvali (Campaign for Health care-Karnataka) analysed the second wave of COVID in the State. Concluding that it was “important to step up trace-test-treat strategy on the ground while bringing in measures to prevent mass gathering of all kinds, reduce footfall in malls, theatres and other such places and stringently enforce the use of masks,” she also stressed the importance of increasing “the pace of vaccination”.

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