COVID-19 Update

Karnataka: Unlocked and out of control

Print edition : October 23, 2020

Officials and volunteers at the COVID-19 War Room that was set up at Vasanthapura ward 197 of Bengaluru as the number of COVID-19 cases rose in the south zone of the city, on August 1. Photo: K. Murali Kumar

Health workers carrying out rapid antigen tests outside the police station at Rajarajeshwari Nagar in Bengaluru on September 30. The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike took the help of the police to request people to participate in its mass testing drive as the number of cases of COVID-19 increased across the city. Photo: K. Murali Kumar

Karnataka added more than 2.5 lakh cases to its tally in September alone, and some experts predict that the State will hits its peak only in January 2021. With unlocking carrying on apace, the number of cases can only continue to rise over the next few months.

THE situation in Karnataka has worsened over the past few weeks with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic. This becomes evident when one sees that the State has the most number of cases after Maharashtra. More than half the daily deaths in the country due to COVID-19 over the past few days came from these two States. Considering that in the first few months of the pandemic, the State’s tally of cases was between the 10th and 15th in the country, this is a pointer to the seriousness of the situation and how the State government has let things slip.

The cumulative number of cases in Karnataka stood at 6,01,767 by the evening of September 30, of which 107,616 were active cases. The unhampered manner in which the novel coronavirus rampaged through the State in September can be gauged from the fact that Karnataka added more than 2.5 lakh cases to its tally in the that month alone. The State’s single highest day spike was seen on September 29, when 10,453 cases were reported. The number of discharges stood at 4,85,268 on September 30, which means that more than 80 per cent of the patients have successfully recovered so far.

Karnataka has also reported 8,864 deaths (3,162 of which took place in September alone), making the mortality rate 1.47 per cent. Looking at the monthly data, perhaps the only positive development is that the mortality rate has reduced slightly compared with the end of August. If one looks at the data on daily deaths, it becomes clear that the deadly virus is well and truly entrenched in the community. For instance, 87 people died on September 30, but only three of the deceased people’s contacts were traced; the remainder died after developing symptoms of severe acute respiratory syndrome or influenza-like illness. Prominent politicians from the State who have passed away in the past two weeks because of COVID-19 include Rajya Sabha member Ashok Gasti, Union Minister Suresh Angadi and Basavakalyan legislator B. Narayan Rao.

According to epidemiologists, the increase in the number of cases can be attributed to the unlocking measures that came into effect in the State. Apart from cinema halls and swimming pools, which remain shut and large gatherings which remain proscribed, all other activities in the State seem to have reverted to their pre-pandemic levels, with people having become relaxed about taking precautionary measures. The State government has now increased the fine for not wearing masks properly in public to Rs.1,000 to ensure that people continue to take at least this basic precaution when they are outside.

Bengaluru Urban

Bengaluru Urban continues to remain the district with the largest number of cases: 2,32,663 cases had been reported cumulatively by the evening of September 30, 47,175 of which are active cases. The majority of the new cases are being reported from the outer zones of the city such as Bommanahalli, Yelahanka, Dasarahalli and Mahadevapura. While the recovery rate in Bengaluru, which is around 78 per cent, has improved slightly, what is worrying is that many of the patients who died because of COVID-19 were brought to the hospitals very late. For instance, according to Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike data, 126 of the 946 Bengalureans who died between August 25 and September 22 died within hours of being identified as COVID-19 positive while another 120 people died within 24 hours. Munish Moudgil, the director of the State’s COVID-19 War Room, blamed the increase in cases in Bengaluru on “violations of home isolation by contacts”.

Testing numbers up

Other districts that continue to have a significant number of active cases include Mysuru (7,110), Dakshina Kannada (5,609), Hassan (3,537), Tumakuru (3,495) and Shivamogga (3,134). The number of samples being tested in the State has increased tremendously, and more than 90,000 samples were tested on September 30. While this is still short of the targeted one lakh tests, public health experts have observed that the number of tests conducted using the much more reliable RT-PCR (reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction) method needs to be increased further. Experts have also stated that the increase in testing has still not kept pace with the rapid spread of the virus in the State.

The State government’s failures in handling the situation came up for discussion in the recently concluded monsoon session of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly, where former Chief Minister and Leader of the Opposition Siddaramaiah of the Congress accused the Bharatiya Janata Party government of suppressing the number of COVID-19 deaths and infections and of serious corruption in the procurement of equipment to tackle the disease. Responding to these charges, Dr K. Sudhakar, the Minister for Medical Education, said: “Nobody is giving wrong [COVID-19] numbers. When it comes to testing, deaths and treatment, Karnataka is giving proper data.” Dr Sudhakar also denied the charges of corruption and said that so far Rs.4,200 crore had been spent (which included Rs.1,442 crore by the State Health Department) on combating the spread of COVID-19 in the State.

According to a study by Prof. Sashikumaar Ganesan and Prof. Deepak Subramani, both of whom are associated with the Department of Computational and Data Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, going by “current trends”, Karnataka will hit its peak only in January 2021, when it will have 1.54 lakh active cases. This mathematical model assumes that there are 10 times the number of COVID-19 cases in the population than is being reported and was updated on the basis of data available up to September 19.

According to the latest directives from the Ministry of Home Affairs issued on September 30, States and Union Territories can take a decision to open schools and colleges after October 15 “in a graded manner”. Swimming pools, cinemas, exhibition halls and large congregations will also be allowed after October 15 as long as they are restricted to 200 people. Considering these developments, it looks like the number of cases in Karnataka will continue to rise over the next few months.

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