COVID-19 Update

Telangana: Doubts about data

Print edition : November 06, 2020

Health workers take a break from collecting nasal swab samples for COVID-19 tests at the Musheerabad Primary Health Centre in Hyderabad on October 7. Photo: Nagara Gopal

Amid allegations by the opposition that the State government had mismanaged the pandemic, the second national sero-survey indicates that around 12.2 per cent of Telangana’s population was exposed to COVID-19 until August.

Telangana’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been muddled, quixotic, even strange. The State’s first COVID-positive case was reported on March 5, and almost all the initial cases were linked to international travellers and their close contacts. However, by late April, with the State’s migrating workforce returning to their rural and semi-rural homes, the numbers swelled manifold. By October 12, the number of COVID-positive cases stood at 2,14,792, of which 24,208 were active.

There have been frequent allegations that Telangana is not forthcoming about the actual number of COVID-positive cases, with cases in many congested areas such as those under the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) simply going unreported. At nearly 2,000 in the period between October 6 and 12, the areas under GHMC limits continue to have the highest concentration of cases reported in the State. Official records say that 1,233 persons have died of COVID-19 in Telangana.

Speaking on behalf of the combined Opposition, Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee president N. Uttam Kumar Reddy told Frontline that the K. Chandrashekar Rao (KCR)-headed Telangana government was “blatantly lying about the [COVID-19] figures”. Uttam Kumar Reddy said: “The KCR government has badly mismanaged the COVID-19 pandemic. They have not tested adequately, not reported positive cases or even deaths. The KCR government has made a mockery of the grave situation, has been fooling the public, and has steadfastly refused to hear the Congress’ pleas to include COVID-19 treatment under the Aarogyasri flagship healthcare programme which was introduced in 2007 by the Congress’ Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy when he was the Chief Minister of united Andhra Pradesh. (The scheme is administered by the Aarogyasri Health Care Trust for those below the poverty line.) The public are bound to respond to this mismanagement.”

Also read: COVID-19 Update | Andhra Pradesh: ‘Past the peak’

Even if one were to take the criticism as sheer opposition bluster, the fact is that in the early weeks of the pandemic the Telangana government was extremely reluctant to test patients. The argument was that testing was expensive and would mean utilising precious State resources and that the government was anyway strictly following the guidelines issued by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), which said that only symptomatic patients had to be tested. This strategy ensured that even in June, Telangana was testing only a tenth of what its fellow Telugu-majority State, Andhra Pradesh, was undertaking. But a change of strategy starting from June resulted in the State ramping up testing from 4,658 tests (conducted on June 19) to 24,542 two months later. By October, Telangana was testing more than 50,000 persons. As of October 12, the State had done a total of 3.6 million tests, of which 1,50,354 (or 70 per cent) were of asymptomatic patients and the remaining 64,438 (30 per cent) were of symptomatic patients. The State’s tests per million on October 12 stood at 97,369.6. While the rate of recovery is 88.2 per cent, the confirmed per million (CPM) stands at 5,770.9 (the all-India average is 5,429.6 CPM). Interestingly, Telangana has stopped publishing district-wise cumulative figures.

According to officials in the State’s Health Department, the worst is over. Speaking to Frontline, Minister for Medical, Health and Family Welfare Etela Rajender said: “The number of positive cases is going down. The trend is that the pandemic is subsiding. The death (fatality) rate in the State at 0.6 per cent is also one of the lowest in the country. We are progressing towards normalcy. The rains have also been normal, which is both good for agriculture and the overall economy and is also a good omen. The panic has gone.” But even the highly optimistic Rajender is bracing for the possible impact the festival season may have on the spread of the novel coronavirus: “We have requested that people to celebrate within their houses.”

Also read: COVID-19 and the danger of complacency

Etela Rajender disclosed that nearly 90 per cent of the State’s active positive cases were in home quarantine: “Wherever there are positive cases the government has provided personal protective equipment and medical kits. The entire medical infrastructure, right from government hospitals and hospitals attached to medical colleges to the village level, has been strengthened after the outbreak of the pandemic. Even for those in home quarantine we have made arrangements to equip them with a medical kit complete with basic medicines.”

Sero-survey results

Telangana was also in the news after the second national sero-survey indicated that around 12.2 per cent of the State’s roughly 35-million population, or 4.27 million people, had been exposed to the novel coronavirus until August. The report by the ICMR and the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) was compiled after 70 districts across the country were surveyed in the last week of August. The survey had included 1,309 samples in three districts—454 people in Jangaon, 433 in Kamareddy and 422 in Nalgonda—in Telangana. The 12.2 per cent seroprevalence in Telangana was a twenty-fold increase from the baseline survey (first phase) which was conducted in mid-May in the same districts. The report also indicated that about 80 per cent of the people who were found to have antibodies were asymptomatic, clearly pointing to the fact that a number of people may have recovered from the disease without even realising that they had it.

Commenting on the report, officials in the Health Department said that although parameters varied across the State, it could be safely said that the exposure to the novel coronavirus in the State was at least 12.2 per cent and certainly not below it.

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