Chhattisgarh: A late upsurge

As Chhattisgarh grapples with a sudden upsurge in the number of COVID-19 cases, the State government’s efforts to contain the pandemic have been hampered by a lack of support from the Centre.

Published : Oct 28, 2020 06:00 IST

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel.

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel.

Chhattisgarh, which remained relatively unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic until early August, now finds itself grappling with an explosion in the number of cases. At number 21, the State remained low on the positivity chart until early August, but since then its graph has remained almost vertical and there is no sign of the curve flattening as yet. Chhattisgarh has consistently featured among the top 10 States from where 80 per cent of new cases, and 84 per cent of the total deaths, are reported.

According to government figures, the State reported a total of 12,502 cases until August 10, with 3,386 active cases and 99 deaths. Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel had, in fact, congratulated the people for maintaining discipline and keeping COVID-19 under control.

Within a month, though, on September 8, the State reported a total of 50,100 cases. The number of deaths, too, climbed sharply, from 99 on August 10 to 407 by September 8.

The saving grace has been Chhattisgarh’s comparatively high rate of recovery (around 78 per cent) and low rate of mortality (about 0.86 per cent). Perhaps that was also why although the number of cases more than doubled (from 50,100 on September 8 to 1,37,570 on October 10), the number of people recovering also crossed one lakh, at 1,08,935 on October 10. The number of deaths recorded was 1,196 on October 10.

The outbreak shows no signs of abating just yet. On October 10 alone, the State reported 2,958 new cases. Between September 25 and October 8, the State reported 38,989 new cases. Urban areas reported the maximum number of cases, with big cities accounting for more than 80 per cent of all cases reported. The State capital Raipur has been the biggest hotspot, with 35,197 cases until October 4, followed by Durg with 12,327 cases, Rajnandgaon with 8,237 cases and Bilaspur with 8,060 cases until October 4. The industrial city of Raigarh reported 7,508 cases, while Janjgir-Champa district reported 5,400 cases.

Also read: COVID-19 and the danger of complacency

State government officials attribute the late onslaught of the disease to two reasons. Chhattisgarh was the first to enforce a lockdown, as early as on March 20, immediately after it reported its first case on March 18, even before the Prime Minister announced a nationwide lockdown. The strict restrictions imposed by the State government in the initial stages kept COVID-19 under check. Also, since Chhattisgarh does not witness much international traffic, it was easier to trace those coming in from abroad, test them, and isolate/treat them if necessary. The problem aggravated only when the movement of people across States was allowed. According to an official, “Chhattisgarh is a landlocked State, so once we stopped movement across the State we could contain the disease effectively. The problem started when the unlockdown began and movement of people started between States. That is why we started seeing a spurt in the number of cases from August onwards.” Officials say that even though around 8,000 to 14,000 tests were conducted each day, the geographical position of the State was such that people moving across States had to pass through Chhattisgarh, and this increased the risk, taking the number of infections higher.

Officials also claim that even as cases started increasing in August, the State government created facilities to handle the crisis. As many as 29 dedicated COVID-care hospitals were readied, while 221 COVID-care centres were set up across the State. The bed capacity at these facilities was increased to 29,111, with 406 intensive care unit (ICU) beds and 370 high-dependency unit beds. The government also encouraged home-based treatment, providing all the necessary back-up treatment facilities. A government official said: “In this way we managed to reduce the load on institutional care. Patients with minor symptoms were treated successfully at home. The effectiveness of this approach is evident by the fact that while 57,998 patients recovered in hospitals/ care centres, a total of 42,553 patients recovered in home isolation.” He added that there was no shortage of beds, oxygen cylinders, PPE kits or medicines at any time.

Also read: COVID-19 Update | Telangana: Doubts about data

However, as with Jharkhand, here, too, officials complained of lack of support from the Centre. Chief Minister Baghel requested Rs.821.93 crore from the Centre, but received only Rs.85.19 crore. Officials said that they could have done better if the Centre had supported them: “We could have created better facilities to take online education to children even in rural areas.”

Interestingly, the Chhattisgarh government’s initiative to take education to the doorstep in remote villages has found appreciation from the NITI Aayog. The State has adopted a mix of online and offline modes of education. In areas where Internet access is a problem, the State has adopted innovative ways such as using loudspeakers to teach children in villages, or getting teachers to use their smartphones to give lessons even as children are seated in the open, following physical distancing norms. That said, a lot more needs to be done, especially at a time when the graph of the State’s COVID caseload continues to rise.

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