COVID-19 Update

Karnataka: Fearing the worst

Print edition : November 06, 2020

Marshals of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike monitoring mask wearing as a large number of people visit shops for the Dasara festival season, at Chickpet in Bengaluru on October 9. The COVID-19 situation is serious in the city, which accounts for more than half the active cases in the State. Photo: K. Murali Kumar

Dr K. Sudhakar. In addition to his responsibility as Medical Education Minister, he was recently appointed the State Health Minister. Photo: K. MURALI_KUMAR

Karnataka stands second only to Maharashtra in terms of the number of cases, and with both Deepavali and Dasara slated to be celebrated over the coming weeks, the situation is only going to get even worse.

WITH 1,15,776 active cases as of October 12, the COVID-19 situation in Karnataka continues to be grim. The State also breached the 10,000 mark of cumulative deaths due to COVID-related complications on October 12. Considering that the situation was under control until June, the rise in cases over the past three months is worrying and is a pointer to how the State government and the general population have become increasingly lax in taking precautions against the deadly virus. According to medical experts, since the gradual unlock guidelines came into effect, not everyone has been rigorously following the mandatory mask wearing and physical distancing norms, and this has led to a rise in cases. The rise in the number of infections is also attributed to the fact that most infected people are asymptomatic or are showing only mild symptoms and that many have breached compulsory home isolation norms. Officials of the Health Department have also attributed the increase to the rise in the number of tests being conducted: Karnataka is testing more than one lakh samples every day in 146 laboratories across the State.

Karnataka now stands second only to Maharashtra in terms of the number of active cases and third in the number of infected people (7,17,915 on October 12) since the beginning of the pandemic. According to reports, while the number of active cases is stabilising in Maharashtra, there is no such trend in Karnataka. That the daily number of active cases reported in Karnataka is larger than in Maharashtra becomes clear if one looks at data from the second week of October when the daily addition to the number of active COVID-19 cases in Karnataka consistently exceeded 10,000.

Also read: COVID-19 Update | Maharashtra: Pandemic fatigue?

The situation is serious in Bengaluru, which accounts for more than half the active cases in the State. According to research done by Project Jeevan Raksha, a Mysuru-based organisation that analyses COVID-19 trends across the country, the number of active cases in Bengaluru went up from 4,649 on July 1 to 47,145 by September 30 and had reached 64,570 by October 12. Looking at the three-month data of six mega cities in India (Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad and Bengaluru) between July and September, Bengaluru’s share in the total number of active cases increased from 5.2 per cent to 38.8 per cent. Dr Giridhar Babu, member of the State Covid Task Force Committee, stated that this increase could be attributed to the “case surge starting late in Bengaluru”. In late June, when Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai were reporting several thousand cases every day, Bengaluru was reporting only 300 daily cases. The positivity rate in Bengaluru, which was around 12 and 13 per cent in the past two months, suddenly rose to 14.53 per cent in the first 10 days of October.

The districts apart from Bengaluru that continue to have a high number of active cases include Mysuru (7,123), Hassan (4,299), Dakshina Kannada (4,283), Tumakuru (2,627) and Ballari (2,467). There is some good news from 12 districts in Karnataka, including Gadag and Davanagere, that have successfully managed to reduce the number of active cases if one looks at the weekly moving growing rate.

Karnataka is facing a significant problem tracing and testing asymptomatic primary and secondary contacts of COVID-19 patients. According to Munish Moudgil, Director of the State COVID War Room, “only about 40 per cent of contacts of known COVID sufferers are coming forward to get tested”. While contacts who display symptoms come forward to get tested, asymptomatic contacts do not. To address this serious problem, the State government issued an order under Section 4 of the Karnataka Epidemic Diseases Ordinance, 2020, stating: “All individuals who are identified for COVID-19 test by the government shall get tested so that the spread of the disease can be contained and lives can be saved.” According to the ordinance, violators can be fined up to Rs.50,000 and face a jail term of up to three years. The order also added: “It has come to the notice that certain individuals are refusing to get tested and thus hampering the efforts to stop the transmission of COVID virus. The timely testing will only help the family members, co-workers, etc. of COVID positive patients to identify disease early and go for treatment.”

Also read: COVID-19 and the danger of complacency

There continue to be problems between the State government and private hospitals with several reports in the local media about how private hospitals are not providing beds for COVID-19 patients referred to them by the Health Department even though identified private hospitals have been mandated to reserve 50 per cent of their beds for such patients. These complaints continue even as officials of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike penalised 10 hospitals in Bengaluru. Speaking at an online seminar organised by Janashakthi Media, Akhila Vasan, a public health activist with the Karnataka Janarogya Chaluvali, said: “During the pandemic, it is business as usual for private hospitals, and patients are struggling to get a bed.”

The State government was keen on reopening schools and colleges after October 15 but has deferred this by one month because of the surge in the number of cases. Speaking to reporters about this, Dr K. Sudhakar, who in addition to his responsibility as Medical Education Minister was recently appointed the State Health Minister after B. Sriramulu was divested of this portfolio, said: “The infection in Karnataka is in the midst of its peak and experts have advised against the opening of schools now.”

Dr Sudhakar stated: “My first priority is to bring COVID under control, decrease the death rate and make sure people get easy treatment.” In Kerala there was a sudden spike in cases because of festivities associated with Onam. If this is anything to go by, the situation in Karnataka is going to get even worse as two popular festivals, Deepavalili and Dasara, are slated to be celebrated over the next few weeks.