Patna: On 6 April, Bihar hadn’t had a single Covid-19 case for nearly 72 hours. There were just 32 cases at the time from 13 districts. Now, 21 days later, the number has jumped to 277, with the virus spreading to 22 out of the state’s 38 districts.
As of Monday morning, 22 new cases were reported — a 9 per cent rise in 24 hours.
Meanwhile, the number of tests conducted until Sunday was 17,042, said a government statement issued to the media. With an estimated population of 126 million, this turns out to be one person out of 7,393, or 284 people per million.
A senior government official told ThePrint that the spike is on account of the return of migrant labourers, among some other factors.
Doctors in Bihar fear the crisis is far from its worst.
As the situation deteriorates, the Nitish Kumar government is also coming under fire from the Opposition over “low testing”.
“A small state like Haryana with 29 million population has done 18,845 tests whereas Bihar having 126 million population has done only 16050 tests…” RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav said in a tweet Saturday. He added that low testing will make the contagion disastrous in Bihar.
A small state like Haryana with 29 million population has done 18845 tests whereas Bihar having 126 million population has done only 16050 tests.If Bihar continues to neglect TESTING,it will be disastrous & contagion will infect more people unabated.What double engine govt doing?
— Tejashwi Yadav (@yadavtejashwi) April 25, 2020
How the number spiked
In the last week, the number of cases in Bihar tripled from 86, and eight new districts were added to the list.
In Siwan, 24 members of a single family tested Covid-positive earlier this month after coming in contact with a person who had returned from Oman. Similar incidents took place in Munger where 11 persons tested positive, and in Nalanda where seven family members tested positive after a relative returned from abroad. In Patna too, a family of six got affected due to one such member.
Munger is the worst-affected district in the state with 68 cases. Nalanda has 34 while Patna, which had only six cases a week ago, has 33 now. Buxar, a new entrant, has 25 cases. Another new entrant, Kaimur, has registered 14 cases.
There are a total of eight districts in Bihar that have Covid-19 patients in double digits.
A major factor that has increased the caseload is the return of migrant labourers from other states, who are now being tested. While the government in its statement put the figure of returning migrant labourers at over 1.5 lakh, there are fears among doctors and officials that this figure could be severely underestimated.
Patients linked to Tablighi Jamaat, which was being pegged as the biggest cause of infection in the state, now account for only around 10 per cent of the total cases, according to a health department official, who didn’t wish to be named. Tablighi cases are mostly restricted to Munger, Nalanda, Begusarai and Buxar.
Migrant crisis and government response
Speaking to ThePrint about the government efforts to contain the Covid-19 spread, Bihar Health Secretary Sanjay Kumar attributed the spike to “more targeted testing”.
“We are identifying Covid 19 cases and going after their contacts,” he said, adding the number of tests is comparatively lower because Bihar got its first testing centre on 22 March.
“Kerala got its first Covid-19 case in January and then started testing. We got our first case after 22 March,” he said, but stressed that more testing doesn’t necessarily mean more cases.
He, however, conceded that the spike was partly due to the fact that migrant labourers who returned from Delhi and Mumbai and were now being tested.
On Saturday, Chief Secretary Deepak Kumar held a conference with district magistrates and superintendents of police, pointing out that there have been several cases of people returning from Gujarat, Delhi, Mumbai, Kanpur and other places, who have tested positive.
“There have been at least eight cases reported by DMs of various states. I have instructed the DMs to pursue contact tracking in these cases and ensure that people they have met are screened and quarantined,” Kumar said after the video conference.
He added that there are reports of nearly 1,450 people entering Bihar in bordering districts, saying they are to be kept in the nearest relief camps, and screened and quarantined. “DMs have been issued orders to concentrate on people who have returned to the state,” he said.
This situation comes at a time when CM Nitish Kumar has already said migrant labourers and students shouldn’t be allowed to return during lockdown. While the opposition has been criticising this policy, ruling alliance partner BJP has also said migrant labourers and students must be allowed to return home.
On Saturday, state BJP president and Paschim Champaran MP Sanjay Jaiswal said his party believes students across India should be brought back. “Hopefully, there should be a solution to the problem by 3 May,” he told ThePrint.
The Pulse Polio eradication-like drive launched by the Bihar government, however, hasn’t resulted in a jump in the number of cases. “We have screened around 4 crore people and only 1,758 cases were recommended for testing so far. It is a good sign that Covid-19 is yet to spread in the community,” said Sanjay Kumar.
Fears of more damage
Doctors in the state fear the situation is only going to worsen once the nationwide lockdown is lifted on 3 May.
“After the lockdown is lifted, imagine the chaos which will prevail. I find a majority of patients are still reluctant to get themselves tested. There is absolute fear at the grassroots,” said Dr Ajit Pradhan, a cardiac surgeon who runs a private hospital in Patna.
“The figures may be the tip of the iceberg as the testing is still low. The impact of thousands of migrant labourers and students may be felt in days to come. The main cause of the spike has been people who have returned home untested. Only God will know how many more people have mingled with the society,” said Dr Brajnandan Yadav, a former secretary of the Indian Medical Association who is now associated with IGIMS, Patna.
The government allowed private clinics and nursing homes to open on 20 April. After a week, more than 50 per cent are still to open, Pradhan said, pointing towards the panic prevailing even in the medical fraternity.