Bengaluru: There has been a sudden surge in Covid-19 cases in Bengaluru with state authorities and experts blaming alleged lapses on the part of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the city’s civic body, for the situation deteriorating.
Over the past week, Bengaluru has contributed close to 60 per cent of Karnataka’s positive cases. Of the 1,272 cases recorded in the state on 1 July, 732 were in Bengaluru. Similarly on 5 July, of the 1,925 new cases in Karnataka, 1,235 cases were from Bengaluru.
And on 6 July, 981 of the 1,863 new cases were from Bengaluru. In all, of the 25,317 cases recorded in Karnataka, the capital city has contributed 10,561 cases.
The sudden surge in Covid-19 cases in Karnataka and Bengaluru, in particular, has led to questions on whether the agencies involved in managing the pandemic have failed in their responsibility.
In Bengaluru, there have been reports of a severe shortage of beds, patients dying at the doorsteps of hospitals after being denied treatment and increasing number of cases due to community transmission.
The BBMP, which is handling the epidemic in the city, is now facing the heat after being lauded for its successful management of the virus before the surge. Its strategy of 5T’s — Tracking, Tracing, Testing, Treatment and Teamwork — had even won plaudits of the Union government, which had asked other states to emulate the model.
State authorities are alleging that the civic body has shown an inability to handle the growing demand for beds and the need for increased contact-tracing, amid a huge backlog of tests.
BBMP Commissioner B.H. Anil Kumar agreed that they were taken aback by the sudden surge of cases but added that his team has been on the job analysing the data and looking at ways to ramp up the system.
“We are in the midst of the third cycle after the lockdown was lifted. It takes 15 days of incubation for the virus to spread. We are now in the middle of that cycle,” Kumar told ThePrint. “Experts, however, say that there would be a lull after this cycle. We are hoping to see that by 15 July.”
What went wrong
The dramatic increase in the number of cases since the ‘unlockdown’ has exposed the lack of coordination and preparedness by the BBMP, says epidemiologist and member of Karnataka’s Covid expert committee, Dr Giridhar Babu.
“The BBMP is the main reason for things falling apart,” Babu told ThePrint.
“The surge was expected, but the way we have been responding is unexpected. Everybody thought we were in good shape to handle the pandemic looking at the preparedness of the health department. But we overestimated the BBMP. We should have been better prepared with private hospitals and medical colleges.”
Officials say a lack of coordination between the BBMP and state authorities has led to the undoing of all the good work and planning during the lockdown.
“You cannot be going to war and then prepare for it,” Dr Babu said.
Another senior official involved with Covid management in the state echoed Dr Babu’s views.
The official said the BBMP made no proper arrangements to track and contact-trace those who were coming into Bengaluru from other affected states.
“Not contact-tracing, not isolating people on time, not bringing patients to hospital on time and not quarantining people who have entered the state shows the BBMP’s failure,” the official said.
“On 15 May, 6,000 people from Maharashtra came to Bengaluru. They were not isolated or quarantined. They were all asymptomatic. Tests were not conducted,” the official who did not want to be named said. “They would have met another 60,000 people even at the conservative estimate of each one of them meeting 10 persons. This has led to community transmission.”
The official added that districts outside the capital had done a better job.
“For example Udupi, which had about 20,000 arrivals from Maharashtra, tested all of them and controlled the spread by quarantining them,” the official said.
BBMP commissioner Kumar denied the charges that contact-tracing had been lax. He said the sudden surge had upset their expectations. “We have done all that we should on the ground,” he said. “The numbers do not reflect it as the data is still being uploaded. You will see all of it in the next couple of days.”
We have ramped up our efforts: BBMP chief
Kumar emphasised that the BBMP has ramped up the system. He said that the BBMP has put in place 275 ambulances and 36 hearse vans across the city.
On the growing demands for bed allocation, the commissioner said that roping in private hospitals has helped the situation.
“These private hospitals have given 2,000 beds exclusively for the government. This is apart from those beds they have set aside for which they charge,” he said. “From ordinary beds, to high flow oxygen, ICU and ones with a ventilator have all been provided for which the government is bearing the expenses.”
He admitted that there was a lag in the number of tests that were being conducted, but attributed it to private laboratories not updating their data on the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) portal.
“Private labs would call the patients directly and tell them if they are positive without updating it on the ICMR database. A panicking patient would try to get admitted into a designated hospital, but would not be admitted as neither the BBMP nor the hospital would have the information as we follow the ICMR data,” the commissioner said.
Hepsibah Korlapati, the IAS officer in charge of the BBMP war-room, said there are two major reasons for the sudden spike in cases — significant mobility factor and markets with high population that have led to the pandemic spread.
Korlapati also said that BBMP had increased testing from 1,000 tests per day in May to a daily 5,000 now. “With increased testing the positivity rate also will increase five times. We all are working together,” she added.
What can be done better
Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister Dr Ashwath Narayan, who is in charge of the state’s Covid Care Centres, said that initially there was a problem in coordination between the BBMP and the state health department. But timely intervention ironed out any issues, he told ThePrint.
He did agree that tracing of primary and secondary contacts had been an issue but claimed that the system has now been streamlined. “Initially, in the transmission phase, there was a challenge. But we have resolved it. We are able to handle the issue despite the spurt in cases,” Narayan told ThePrint.
Dr Babu, however, feels that districts in Karnataka have done better than Bengaluru. This he attributes to proper planning and execution by the district administrations.
“Bengaluru’s city administrative body should have better accountability and coordination for effective handling of the situation,” he said.
“The situation can be salvaged. This is not a desperate or impossible situation that we cannot overcome. We have senior IAS officers and ministers involved in day-to-day management, but all this could have been prevented.”
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