Lucknow: It was not the Kumbh pilgrims, but migrant workers returning home from states like Maharashtra, Punjab and Delhi who brought the highly-infectious, mutant strain of Covid-19 to Uttar Pradesh, Health Minister Jai Pratap Singh said.
“People from UP, who are working outside, generally return to the state for Holi or for crop cutting, every year [around March]. This is when the problem started for us. People in large numbers began coming in to UP from heavily-infected states like Maharashtra, Delhi and Punjab. The number of Covid-19 cases suddenly increased 100-folds. And we were not prepared,” Singh told ThePrint in a telephonic interview Wednesday.
Singh said UP had hit its first Covid peak on 17 September 2020, when the total number of active cases in the state reached 68,000. “After that our numbers started decreasing. Like elsewhere, people forgot about Covid. And that’s when the mutant virus hit us again. And the numbers overwhelmed us,” the health minister said.
In just about a month, from around the middle of March and until now, UP has become the second worst-affected state in the country after Maharashtra — the state’s official figures for new Covid cases Wednesday was 33,106, after Maharashtra’s 67,468. It saw 187 deaths due to Covid, officially, in the past 24 hours.
The health minister acknowledged that the existing infrastructure in the state was ill-equipped to handle the crisis. What’s making matters worse, he said, was that a large number of doctors have also been infected, leading to a shortage of health manpower.
The state has started ramping up its medical infrastructure — adding more beds in hospitals and increasing its stock of medicines and oxygen for patients. It is also ensuring that asymptomatic patients are released from hospitals and quarantined and treated at home, so medical facilities can be better used for those in need. Still, the crisis remains.
Lack of medical facilities
One of the biggest challenges facing the state — as also the rest of the country — is that the number of patients seeking treatment for Covid far outnumbers the hospital beds, even at some of its biggest healthcare facilities
For instance, the King George Medical University (KGMU) in Lucknow has 4,500 beds, said Singh. Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Medical College and Ram Manohar Lohia hospital, also in the state capital, have 200 beds each, he said. But, Singh added, the number of patients coming in for treatment was almost ten times the number of available hospital beds.
“People are coming in not only from Lucknow, but other parts of eastern UP and nearby towns. There is bound to be a shortage of beds and other essential items. It is a similar situation in Kanpur, Prayagraj, Gorakhpur and Varanasi. They [these cities] are the ones with the maximum number of Covid patients in the state,” he said.
Doctors falling prey to Covid
The challenge facing the state is not just shortage of beds, supply of medical oxygen and medicines, but a lack of sufficient medical manpower to attend to patients.
“Because of the high transmissibility of the virus, we are also facing a shortage of doctors. One-third of the total number of doctors at KGMU have been infected. The remaining doctors are working overtime…. It’s a similar situation everywhere. It’s a challenging time for all of us,” Singh added.
To ease the pressure on hospitals, the UP government has now come out with a new discharge policy for Covid patients, said the health minister.
“If a person admitted in the hospital does not have any symptoms after five to seven days, they will be told to go home, isolate and continue their medication. Doctors will continue to monitor their condition. That way a critical patient can get the bed,” explained Singh.
Ramping up infrastructure
Meanwhile, the health minister said the state government was already scaling up its health infrastructure, increasing the number of beds and supply of oxygen.
While, according to him, the consumption of medical oxygen in the state has increased by 30-35 per cent by mid-April, the Centre has granted its request to increase supply.
“After facing a shortage of oxygen, we wrote to the Centre to increase our allocation. It was increased to 751 metric tonnes, from the earlier limit of 200 metric tonnes, earlier this week. We are sending tankers to plants assigned to us, such as the one in Bokaro and the Modi Nagar plant in Mathura, to refill and bring medical oxygen,” he said.
The biggest challenge for everyone at this time is that they are fighting an unknown enemy. “Nobody knows much about the nature of the virus or how it behaves. That has made fighting the pandemic so challenging,” he said.