COVID-19 numbers shooting up in Telangana; High Court criticises State government for low testing and vaccination numbers

Published : April 07, 2021 12:02 IST

Business as usual at the wholesale market yard at Malakpet in Hyderabad despite rising COVID-19 numbers. Photo: NAGARA GOPAL

The rate of COVID-19 infection in Telangana has increased fourfold since the beginning of March. The infection rate, which was at 0.41 per cent on March 1, had increased to 2.1 per cent by Aril 4. The last few days have seen over a thousand new cases being detected — 1,078 on April 3, 1,321 on April 4, 1,097 on April 5, and 1,498 on April 6. The total number of cases in the State as on April 6 stood at 3,14,735, and the number of active cases were 9,993, the highest since November 30, 2020.

The State Health Minister Eatala Rajendar told Frontline that the government has decided to adopt a wait and watch approach before going in for a lockdown. Said the Minister: “Restriction by way of shutting down schools, strictly imposing the mask mandate, restricting public gatherings, and deferring and postponing examinations like the Telangana State Board of Intermediate Education to late May or even early June have been undertaken. We have also reopened all the 33 government-run isolation centres across the State. Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 and needs to quarantine but cannot do so at home because of various reasons can admit themselves to these centres. We are also making sure that oxygen cylinders are readily available at COVID care centres and hospitals treating COVID patients.” The Minister also sought to highlight the work done by the COVID-19 Command Control Centre, that was set up under his chairmanship in March 2020 at Koti in Hyderabad.

The State, he added, had vaccinated 15,70,446 people — 13,10,770 with the first dose and 2,59,676 with both doses. He attributed the spread of the coronavirus to people having become “less than vigilant”. Said Rajendar: “People have lost the fear of the virus. The State has a recovery ratio rate of 96.3%, and a case fatality ratio of 0.5%, this has made people overconfident. Yes, cases are now going up rapidly, but I am confident we can tackle the spread.”

Notwithstanding Rajendar’s guarded confidence, the K. Chandrashekhar Rao government on April 6 faced criticism from the Telangana High Court for low RT-PCR testing and inadequate vaccination numbers. After remarking that adequate measures to contain the spread of the infection were not being followed in the State, the High Court instructed the government to file a fresh status report within 48 hours on the steps taken to tackle the virus’ spread.

The High Court found serious fault with Telangana’s RT-PCR testing regime. Citing a report submitted to it by the State Attorney General, the High Court termed the testing numbers “pathetic” and said the State could not afford to go slow on conducting tests. The State has so far conducted 1,04,35,997 tests, but health experts point out that a majority were the less-than-accurate Rapid Antigen tests. Highlighting the example of Warangal (Urban) district, the High Court pointed out that 4,000 Rapid Antigen tests and 1,400 RT-PCR tests had been carried out.

Hearing two public interest litigation (PIL) petitions, a two-judge bench consisting of Chief Justice Hima Kohli and Justice B. Vijaysen Reddy observed that the RT-PCR tests were less than 10 per cent of all diagnostic tests being carried out in certain districts. The court expressed concern that despite expert opinion that RT-PCR tests were more accurate than Rapid Antigen tests, the State was not carrying out enough RT-PCR testing.

“Why is the State not doing 24/7 vaccination while some other States are doing? What have you done to check the occupancy rate in hotels, restaurants, pubs, and bars? Are you controlling the number of people assembling at weddings and death ceremonies?” the Chief Justice reportedly asked the Attorney General.

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