COVID-19 Update

Gujarat: Gradual return to normalcy

Print edition : October 23, 2020

A health-care worker makes a public announcement about rapid antigen tests during a door-to-door COVID-19 awareness survey in Jakhan village in Gujarat, on September 22. Photo: Amit Dave/REUTERS

The State government’s decision to adopt the testing and treatment method seems to have paid off, as reflected in its increased case recovery rate. With the reopening of shops and industries and the return of migrant workers, the State appears set to return to pre-lockdown normalcy.

After initially being listed among the top five States in the country that were showing a worrying rate of growth in COVID-19 cases, Gujarat has now dropped to the 13th position in terms of the total number of people infected. Having put in place aggressive measures to combat the coronavirus, the State appears to be in better control of the situation, although it is not out of the woods just yet. The lower rank could also be owing to the fact that several other States, mainly in southern India, have witnessed a disturbing surge in COVID-19 cases of late.

On October 1, Gujarat recorded a total of 1,37,232 COVID-positive cases. Of these, as many as 1,17,099 have recovered, while the number of deaths is 3,450. The State’s case recovery rate has increased to 84.93 per cent. Additionally, the seropositivity ratio is 1.84 per cent (an indicator of how widespread the disease is), which is much lower than its neighbour Maharashtra’s ratio of 25.24 per cent, according to Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) data.

Mortality rate

However, Gujarat continues to find a place among the top three States in terms of mortality and case fatality rates (CFR). With a mortality rate of 2.68 per cent, Gujarat ranks third after Punjab (2.86 per cent) and Maharashtra (2.70 per cent). According to the MoHFW, Gujarat’s CFR is 3.83 percent, which is almost twice the national rate of 2.07 percent.

Gujarat’s urban hubs have seen the worst of the virus. Ahmedabad, which has been the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic, continues to report high numbers. On October 1, the city recorded a total of 35,036 cases and 1,812 deaths. Surat, well known for its diamond and textile industries, recorded 28,404 cases and 752 deaths. Other cities such as Vadodara (7,091 cases and 185 deaths), Rajkot (9,111 cases and 180 deaths) and Bhavnagar (4,102 cases and 65 deaths) recorded far lower numbers, which were nevertheless higher than those recorded in the rural and tribal belts, where the number of deaths remain in single or double digits.

The surge in cases in the cities has been attributed to the opening up of the economy. Rajkot, for instance, had 2,077 cases and 35 deaths in end August. Rajkot-based businessman Ashish Agarwal said: “The spike was obviously caused after the opening up. The municipal corporation was very careful about allowing inter-district movement but it could be controlled only to an extent.”

Until August, Gujarat was in such a precarious position that teams from the All India Institute for Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) had to visit the State twice to guide the State government on COVID-19 management. The State government’s decision to adopt the widespread testing and treatment method has perhaps paid off. Sources in a testing company say that the largest order placed for RC-PCR testing kits came from Gujarat in July. State government figures say that Gujarat’s average testing per day is 1,119 per million, as compared to Maharashtra’s 547 per day per million. It seems that the State has understood the benefits of testing. A doctor who works on the frontline in Ahmedabad said: “Earlier there was a misconception that if you don’t test, the numbers will not increase. But the fatalities were increasing because people were coming in for treatment too late. Now we test and treat.”

Based on a study by the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) in Ahmedabad, an interesting pilot project where patients with high viral loads were segregated from those with lower viral loads was carried out. The study suggested that patients with high viral loads could infect up to eight people, and if kept separate, the contagion would be lower. The doctor quoted above added that hospitals are exploring the possibility of using this method while admitting patients.

Local sources in Ahmedabad, Surat and Rajkot say that the State appears to be bouncing back from the lockdown. Shops and industries have opened, which is encouraging lakhs of migrants who fled the State to return. “Sadly, in spite of the trauma they went through, they have to return to work,” said Vipul Shah, a labour activist based in Ahmedabad. “We have been trying to make sure some safety provisions are made, should there be another lockdown, but again owners will do only as much as they want to.”

Reports from Surat say that textile workers, a sizeable population of whom live in Ganjam, Odisha, are beginning to return on special trains. “We are only operating at 50 per cent capacity but we are at least working,” said Rakesh Kunjwani, a businessman from one of Surat’s wholesale markets. “The Diwali season is upon us and while it is nowhere near the usual amount of business, at least we are seeing some activity.”

Gujarat is an industrious State. With help from the Centre, it will probably be among the first few States to return to pre-lockdown normalcy.

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