COVER STORY: Chhattisgarh

Sharp spike in COVID cases in Chhattisgarh

Print edition : May 07, 2021

Migrant workers of Chhattisgarh, on their way home because of the surge in COVID cases, arrive at the Vijayawada railway station on April 12. Photo: GIRI K.V.S.

Migrant workers arrive from Chhattisgarh in Ranchi on April 15. Photo: PTI

Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel receives a COVID-19 vaccine dose in Raipur on April 9. Photo: PTI

Chhattisgarh’s public health structure is on the verge of breakdown as it faces a deadly second wave.

Chhattisgarh, which had done well to contain the spread of the coronavirus in 2020, seems unable to get a grip on the situation this year.

April was particularly bad for the State as it recorded more than 10,000 cases every day. This catapulted Chhattisgarh into the country’s top 10 States affected by COVID-19. It also became one of the top five States, along with Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka and Punjab, to account for 78.9 per cent of all active cases in India.

Images of workers covered in personal protective equipment (PPE) kits transporting corpses of COVID victim in garbage vans (in Rajnandgaon) or trucks (in Raipur) served as grim pointers to the worsening situation.

Corpses piled up outside mortuaries as the State’s public health infrastructure struggled under the strain of a massive and sudden spike in COVID-19 infections. A video of bodies on stretchers under the sun and on the floor at Bhimrao Ambedkar Memorial Hospital in Raipur quickly went viral. In this day and age of social media, it became increasingly difficult for the administration to ignore the dangerous situation that is unfolding.

Mortuaries were short of space, crematoriums were short of wood, and long queues formed outside chemists’ shops. Everything in Chhattisgarh seemed to be in short supply, except the virus.

Also read: COVID second wave: Clueless Centre cannot hold

On April 13, Chhattisgarh recorded 12,246 new cases and active cases surpassed the one-lakh mark. Chhattisgarh is now second only to Maharashtra in the number of active cases, and in fact the surge in infections here seems to be higher than Maharashtra’s. The daily average in Chhattisgarh on April 13 was 373 per cent of the peak during the first wave, whereas the corresponding figure in Maharashtra was 262 per cent. On the same day, Chhattisgarh recorded a daily average of 110 deaths. This was 200 per cent of the corresponding figure at the peak of the first wave and surpassed even Maharashtra’s daily average of deaths. Chhattisgarh’s highest single-day spike kept going up, and the number recorded on April 15 was 15,256. The total number of infections as of April 15 was 5,01,500. The total death toll stood at 5442.

The worst hit districts were the capital Raipur and the industrial hub of Durg, followed by Rajnandgaon, Bilaspur and Balodabazar. As many as 19 of the State’s 28 districts were put under lockdown and other restrictions of varying degrees. Raipur, Bilaspur, Surguja, Mungeli, Janjgir-Champa, Balrampur, Korba, Raigarh, Dhamtari, Mahasamund and Balod were under these curbs. However, essential services were allowed to operate almost everywhere.

The Press Club in Rajnandgaon was converted into a COVID centre for the treatment of asymptomatic patients, and an indoor stadium in Raipur was converted into a 360-bed COVID hospital with an oxygen plant. As the situation worsened, Odisha sealed its borders with Chhattisgarh and set up medical camps at entry points to deal with migrant workers who were returning after the recent surge in COVID infections. Chhattisgarh made it mandatory for passengers arriving by air or rail to provide a COVID-negative report issued not more than 72 hours before arrival. Those without a certificate would be tested on the spot and would be sent to quarantine centres if found to be positive.

Governor Anusuiya Uikey and Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel chaired an all-party meeting on April 15 to discuss how to tackle the pandemic. They stressed the need to test more people, especially those entering Chhattisgarh from Maharashtra by road, and for setting up quarantine centres on the inter-State borders.

Also read: Second wave of COVID-19 in India

Baghel said that the State government was doing everything possible to control and prevent COVID infections. He appealed to all party representatives to spread awareness about the need to get tested if symptoms appeared and to self-isolate until the report arrived. He also appealed to them to spread awareness about the need for compliance with COVID-19 protocols. He said that government hospitals were giving free treatment to COVID-19 patients. In order to put minimum economic burden on people who were getting treatment through the Ayushman Yojna and the Dr Khubchand Baghel Scheme, the testing and treatment charges in private hospitals were capped, he added.

Anusuiya Uikey called upon all political parties to work with the State government towards extending relief and food. She said that people’s representatives could play a significant role in raising awareness and urged them to send political party representatives to villages for raising awareness regarding control and prevention of the pandemic.

Dr Subhash Pandey, Joint Director in the State’s Health Department, recently died after testing positive. He had been admitted to All India Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Raipur. He was a spokesperson of the State’s Covid Command and Control Centre.

State Health Minister T.S. Singh Deo, who also tested positive, admitted that the situation in the State was a “matter of concern” and that the “sudden rise” in infections posed a challenge for the authorities.

He assured mediapersons that new beds would be added to the facilities specifically dedicated for COVID-19 patients.

While in March one in a hundred people was found to be positive, the number climbed to 28 in April. Central Chhattisgarh was more affected than the northern and southern parts of the State. T.S. Deo said efforts were on to enhance testing facilities for travellers coming in from outside the State and isolation and treatment centres were being set up.

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