COVID-19 Update

Andhra Pradesh: ‘Past the peak’

Print edition : November 06, 2020

At an Aadhaar enrolment centre in Vijayawada on July 17. Physical distancing rules continue to be flouted in the State. Photo: V. RAJU

At a mobile testing centre in Vijayawada on September 22. Photo: K.V.S. Giri

A drop in the number of daily infections and test positivity rate, combined with a rise in the recovery rate, is injecting confidence in the authorities who are cautiously optimistic that the worst is behind them.

With nearly 800,000 people in Andhra Pradesh having contracted COVID-19, the situation is without doubt still very grim. The State has the second highest tally of positive cases in the country. Having tested 6.63 million people, the State’s positivity rate is a rather high 11.45 per cent. The number of confirmed cases per million population is 14,533, much higher than the all-India average of 5,382.

However, it is not all gloom and doom: there is good news as well. High-ranking officials dealing with the pandemic in the State are cautiously optimistic and are convinced that “the worst is over, at least for the moment”. They said that “by all accounts”, as of the fourth week of September the virus had peaked in the State.

Citing figures to buttress their claims, they said that on October 12, Andhra Pradesh reported its lowest number of daily infections and test positivity rate in around three months: 3,224 infections, the lowest in 86 days, and, with 61,112 having been tested on that day, a positivity rate of 5.28 per cent, the lowest test positivity rate in 95 days, a figure that is less than half of the State’s cumulative average.

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

For the first time, the recovery rate also crossed 93 per cent, with just over 6 per cent of the cases, or 43,983 of the total cases reported so far, still being active. Of these, around 13,000 were in COVID-designated hospitals, 7,000 in COVID care centres and the rest in home isolation.

On October 12, 32 patients succumbed to the virus, bringing the total number of fatalities in the State to 6,256. However, Andhra Pradesh continues to have one of the lowest fatality rates in India: 0.83 per cent of all confirmed cases cumulatively and 0.73 per cent in recent weeks succumbed to the virus.

As of October 12, the two Godavari districts continued to lead the tally of positive cases in Andhra Pradesh: East Godavari with 1,06,590 and West Godavari with 75,489.. They were followed by: Chittoor (70,615), Anantapur (61,156), Guntur (60,221), Kurnool (58,241), Nellore (56,844), Prakasam (54,658), Visakhapatnam (52,651), Kadapa (48,209), Srikakulam (41,831), Vizianagaram (37,515) and Krishna (32,036).

Aggressive testing

Speaking to Frontline, M.T. Krishna Babu, the State COVID-19 Task Force Committee Chairman, said that Andhra Pradesh’s aggressive testing regime (it has conducted over 6.7 million tests, with 89 per cent of those tested being asymptomatic patients), contact tracing, isolation of those infected, adequate ramping up of medical infrastructure, and the fact that the government was not afraid to declare the actual number of people who tested positive without fudging figures, were the primary reasons why the State had been able to tackle the pandemic.

He added: “At the height of the infection we had over 70,000 beds available for COVID patients. Most importantly, we have been conducting over 70,000 tests a day over the last few months. If we did not do so, we would have missed cases. Once a person tested positive we restricted his or her movement.” He also said that the testing had posed a huge strain on the exchequer, adding: “Our efforts have shown results. The number of cases has settled down. With the positivity rate below 6 per cent, we can say that we are reasonably in control. Though we are still learning and tackling secondary infections and psychological trauma in patients who have recovered, we have not observed a second surge of the virus.”

Also read: COVID-19 Update | Tamil Nadu: Curious statistics

Bhaskar Katamneni, Commissioner, Health and Family Welfare Department, who is also Mission Director of the National Health Mission, said: “From detecting over 10,500 cases per day, we are now down to much less than half that figure. The peak is over. But having at one point handled over 123,000 positive cases, we are confident that should cases again shoot up we can tackle it. The reopening of educational institutions starting from the first week of November could mean more cases.”

Both Krishna Babu and Bhaskar Katamneni said that delaying the peak also played a key role in Andhra Pradesh’s success. They said that every day the State was spending Rs.3.5-3.75 crore on testing (Rs.1,200 for each of the reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction tests and Rs.450 per rapid antigen test) and another Rs.2.5 crore on food and sanitation for in-patients at the hospitals and COVID care centres.

According to Bhaskar Katamneni, the fact that there are no mega cities or a concentration of clinical facilities in any one location in Andhra Pradesh, though initially a drawback, eventually proved to be a boon.

He said: “When the first cases broke, we were forced to send samples for testing to clinical laboratories in Hyderabad and Pune. We had no facilities. The situation forced us to ramp up our medical infrastructure, both at the hospital and at the PHC [primary health centre] levels. When the pandemic broke we had 250 ventilators; today we have 5,000, and the number of our oxygen beds has gone up from 3,600 to 30,000, while the availability of oxygen has grown tenfold from 45 tonnes to 450 tonnes.”

Also read: COVID-19 and the danger of complacency

Health department officials told Frontline that the use of plasma therapy and remdesivir, the antiviral intravenous medication developed by the biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, may have psychologically helped many a patient.

Opposition view

However, opposition parties in the State are not too convinced. Sake Sailajanath, president of the Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee, said: “People have adjusted to the COVID-19 situation, though social distancing is still not being practised, and more than 60 per cent of the population are wearing masks. Livelihood issues have overtaken everything else; people have to go about their lives.”

His party colleague and State Congress Committee working president Narreddy Tulasi Reddy said: “The number of cases is fast approaching 800,000 but the Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy government is not bothered. Jagan Mohan Reddy himself is only preoccupied with court cases. He has also unnecessarily dragged the State into a legal tangle by writing to the Chief Justice of India [S.A. Bobde] alleging that one of the apex court judges (Justice N.V. Ramanna) had been influencing the sittings of the Andhra Pradesh High Court, including having a hand in deciding the roster of a few judges, and that the State’s judicial neutrality is not being maintained. When there is so much of work to be accomplished here in the State, like [curbing]corruption in the treatment of COVID patients, one wonders why Jagan Mohan is indulging in this hara-kiri.”

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