COVID-19 Update

Karnataka to become the State with highest number of active COVID-19 cases after Maharashtra

Print edition : October 09, 2020

Health workers at the newly inaugurated coronavirus observatory at the COVID fever clinic off Magadi road, in Bengaluru on September 14. Photo: k. murali kumar

The number of COVID-19 cases continues to spiral in Karnataka, making it the State with the highest number of active cases after Maharashtra.

THERE is no respite in the spread of COVID across Karnataka. A lull in the rate of infection for a few days in the first week of September gave rise to hopes that the situation was improving. These hopes were dashed when 9,000-odd cases were reported every day from September 9, taking the total number of active cases to more than one lakh. The situation is particularly worrying in Bengaluru which, as some news reports have pointed out, has surpassed Mumbai as the city with the second highest number of active cases in the country after Delhi. Karnataka has the highest number of active cases after Maharashtra, and more than that of Andhra Pradesh in the third place.

A look at the reported case tallies will give a sense of the alarming increase: 9,540 cases on September 9; 9,217 on September 10; 9,464 on September 11; 9,140 on September 12; 9,894 on September 13; 8,244 on September 14; 7,576 on September 15; and 9,725 on September 16. On the two days when the tally dipped below 9,000, there was under reporting from several districts because government doctors were on strike demanding a pay hike. The number of new cases in a day routinely touches a new high every few days and no longer makes the newspaper headlines in Bengaluru. As of now, the highest single -day spike in the State is the 9894 cases reported on September 13.

By the evening of September 16, Karnataka had 1,01,626 active cases (out of the total number of 4,84,990 cases). The number of deaths stood at 7,536. The State Health Department, which aimed at conducting around a lakh tests every day in September, conducted only around 70,000 tests daily. Cumulatively, 39,86,283 tests have been conducted in the State using both the rapid antigen detection and the RT-PCR methods. Bengaluru Urban, has the highest number of active cases at 39,472. The city has reported 2,521 deaths until now. Other districts with a high number of active cases are Ballari (5,157), Mysuru (5,989), Dakshina Kannada (4,499), Shivamogga (3,771) and Hassan (3571).

The problem of increasing caseload was compounded by the strike organised by the Karnataka Government Medical Officers Association (KGMOA) in several districts. This affected the tabulation of COVID data in the State. For instance, Bagalkote district reported zero cases on September 15. Udupi reported only one case while Ballari, Bidar, Chamarajanagar, Dharwad, Gadag, Kodagu, Kolar, Ramanagara and Yadgir reported fewer than 100 cases each.

Deputy Chief Minister, Dr. Ashwath Narayan assured KGMOA representatives that the government would meet their demands to “some extent”. Addressing mediapersons, he said: “We will provide them (government doctors) incentives and have told them to call off the strike as there is a crisis, and we are in the middle of a pandemic.” This assurance seems to have mollified the doctors as reporting on COVID numbers stabilised on September 16.

The surge in numbers in Karnataka has been attributed to the relaxation in COVID prevention norms such as wearing of masks and maintaining physical distance. Restaurants and bars started serving alcohol from September 1, and the streets of Bengaluru city are as crowded and busy as they were before the pandemic struck.

The surge in cases is bound to put more pressure on the inadequate public health infrastructure in the State. In Bengaluru, reports of a shortfall in hospital beds with ventilator support brought to the fore the tussle between the government and private hospitals, which have been mandated to reserve 50 per cent of their beds for COVID patients referred by the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and the Health Department. A senior bureaucrat in charge of bed management told Frontline that private hospitals were allotting beds meant for government-referred patients to patients referred by private hospitals even if they were asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic. This he said was a waste of resources. The seriousness of the situation can be understood from the fact that a patient died in Bengaluru on September 15; he was turned away by a private hospital in Bommanahalli citing lack of ventilators.

The situation in some districts is distressing as the data regarding the case fatality rate (CFR)—the proportion of deaths in a sample of infected cases—shows. While the CFR for Bengaluru Urban is 1.3 per cent, it is 1.8 per cent for the rest of Karnataka. (The overall CFR for Karnataka is 1.62 per cent, which is slightly lower than the national CFR at 1.72 per cent). According to Dr C.N. Manjunath, who is a member of the State COVID-19 task force, this is because “rural districts have underdeveloped medical infrastructure incapable of handling a big rise in the number of cases”.

A few districts have, however, beaten the overall trend with regard to CFR and have high recovery rates. Vijayapura in northern Karnataka has a recovery rate of 90.8 per cent. Udupi is another district with a relatively higher recovery rate of 85.7 per cent. Overall, the ratio of recovered patients to total COVID cases in Karnataka stands at 76.8 per cent.

Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa recently instructed the district administrations to form booth-level task forces to trace primary contacts in an effort at control the increasing COVID numbers. Meanwhile, Siddaramaiah, Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly, accused Yediyurappa of becoming “complacent” and of ignoring the State’s health infrastructure “which was in shambles”. In a series of tweets, he said the “State government is under the assumption that the pandemic has ended. They have to wake up from slumber and solve health infra [structure] issues.”