Bengaluru: The city of Bengaluru is on its way to flatten the Covid-19 curve and efforts are being made to ensure it does not enter Stage 3 (community transmission) of the pandemic, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike’s (BBMP) Commissioner B.H. Anil Kumar told ThePrint in an exclusive interview.
The BBMP is the civic body that runs the city.
Kumar said Bengaluru has done “exceptionally well” and “effectively controlled community spread of Covid-19”, adding the city had an advantage as it affected a lockdown before other parts of the country did.
“We have had the first-mover advantage and we immediately decided to shut down all spaces such as shopping malls, cinema theatres, pubs and areas where people may gather, even before the national lockdown was announced,” Kumar said.
According to data shared by the BBMP Covid-19 war-room, which is headed by Kumar, Karnataka has a total of 794 cases, of which Bengaluru accounts for 179 positive cases and has recorded six deaths until now.
‘Awaiting a second wave’
Kumar, however, cautioned that there was possibility of a second wave.
“We are anticipating a second wave,” Kumar said, explaining how viruses such as influenza appear twice a year — once during summer season and then just after the monsoons before the onset of winter.
But he added that Karnataka has learnt several lessons from the first wave, and was better prepared to handle the situation if there is a second wave.
“We have not reached the third stage as of now. Going by the numbers we have been able to contain the pandemic in the second stage itself,” Kumar said. “Community transmission has not taken place as rapidly as in other countries and we hope to keep it at this stage for the next four to five months.”
Random testing of samples
Kumar said the city was not letting its guard down and has been conducting random sample tests in the containment areas.
“We are conducting random sampling in the containment areas. We have now decided to test all residents in Padarayanapura (a hotspot in the city),” the BBMP commissioner said. “The cases we are now getting are sporadic ones. Most of the deaths are of those who have co-morbidities and are above the age of 55.”
As many as 248 people have been identified and quarantined in Padarayanapura.
Though Karnataka reported the first coronavirus death in the country, the state government has effectively been able to control the spread of the pandemic by sealing off the affected areas and converting them into containment zones.
The BBMP commissioner, however, admitted that a migrant worker testing positive in South Bengaluru’s Hongasandra was worrying.
“The only lead we have is that the patient may have contracted the virus from a scrap dealer he was working for. We have no other lead to the source of the infection,” Kumar said. “Hongasandra is a typical case where eight to ten people living together in a small shed were contaminated and through the first patient, 300 others have been affected.”
According to BBMP officials, nearly 245 primary and secondary contacts of the migrant worker have been identified and sent to quarantine.
Kumar said one of the effective methods that the BBMP adopted to curb the Covid-19 spread was by first isolating the primary and second contacts of the affected patient. The second step involved random sampling in the area where the patient lived, further helped in containing the spread, the municipal commissioner said.
He added that the two-pronged strategy of containment zones and random sampling played a huge role in keeping the number of positive patients under control.
“Bengaluru urban has a population of over 1.3 crores. Some areas are thickly populated. These places are of concern for us,” Kumar said. “The first thing we did was as soon as we found a single positive case, we sealed off the area. All movement was stopped and we clamped down all entry and exit points, except for emergency services. We went one step ahead and quarantined primary and secondary contacts. This has had a tremendous impact in containing the spread in the community.”
Bengaluru, however, has 19 containment zones, one of the highest in the state.
‘Red zones should be specific areas not entire district’
Kumar disagreed with the Union government tagging Bengaluru district, which includes Bengaluru Urban, Bengaluru Rural and the neighbouring district of Ramanagara, as a Red Zone.
Kumar said classifying the entire district of Bengaluru Urban as a Red Zone was unfair and will hamper economic activity, plunging the state into a deeper economic crisis. The commissioner said he has written to Chief Secretary T.M. Vijay Bhaskar, explaining that by converting containment zones into red zones rather than the entire district would prove more helpful to the state.
“Marking entire Bengaluru as a red zone is unfair to the state. In BBMP we have 198 wards. We do not have a single positive case in 150 wards,” he said. “I would say that around 800 square kilometres of the city is green. So if we look at BBMP being classified as a red zone, it would hamper efforts to resume normalcy, which is much required at this time.”
“Bengaluru accounts for a large chunk of the state’s economy and we need to kick-start it as soon as possible. This is what I wrote to the CS and he has taken it up with the MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs),” Kumar added. “We are awaiting a response from the Centre, but almost 90 per cent of Bengaluru has slipped into normalcy.”
On the economic front, Kumar said the major source of the BBMP’s income was property taxes and this year, they have slipped drastically.
“Last year, we collected property tax of around Rs 1,000 crore. In the same period this year, we have managed to collect just Rs 200-Rs 250 crore,” he said. “You can see the gap for yourself. We hope that once the lockdown restrictions ease, people will pay their taxes. It will take at least three to six months for the economy to revive.”
On the migrant labourers issue, Kumar said much has been done by the BBMP along with the state labour department to provide hot meals and food kits to them during the lockdown.
“The labour department initially distributed 1.5 lakh hot food packets a day to ensure that the migrant workers are taken care of. The BBMP also started free food through the Indira canteens,” Kumar told ThePrint. “The demand went up to 3.25 lakh meals a day. This is apart from the ones the labour department was distributing. But we faced a huge problem in terms of logistics and reaching food on time to those in need.”
He added that the BBMP then devised a food ration kit that would last a family for 20 days. These kits included rice, dal, wheat four, oil, salt, some masala powders and some basic vegetables.
“So far, we have distributed 2.5 lakh such kits,” Kumar said.
The Karnataka government had last Monday called off the special trains organised for migrant labourers after Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa reportedly held a meeting with members of the Confederation of Real Estate Developers Associations of India (CREDAI), which includes builders and contractors.
The government, however, rolled back the decision Friday, allowing the workers to now go home.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.