Lucknow: First, the hard statistics.
Uttar Pradesh’s official Covid-19 figures Wednesday was 33,106, the second highest in the country after Maharashtra’s 67,468, and 187 deaths.
In capital Lucknow, some private hospitals Wednesday evening asked attendants to shift out their patients to other centres, after they ran out of medical oxygen. While medical oxygen was supplied to a few of them after frantic SOS calls, the situation continues to be precarious across the state.
It’s not only the supply of medical oxygen that is in short supply. The state, including Lucknow, is battling an acute bed shortage too.
Government data accessed by ThePrint showed that as on 19 April, the total number of beds available at 138 Covid hospitals (both private and government) across the state was 25,904. Of this, 25,064 were already occupied, leaving only 840 vacant beds in the state with a population of over 20 crore.
The Covid-19 testing figures are equally abysmal, leaving out large swathes of the population. UP Health Minister Jai Pratap Singh told ThePrint Wednesday that UP is testing anywhere between 2,20,000 and 2,30,000 persons every day.
This is just 0.1 per cent of the total population.
Besides, just about 45 per cent of total testing is done through RT-PCR, considered more accurate in detecting Covid-19, according to government data accessed by ThePrint.
Asked about the low RT-PCR figures, Navneet Sehgal, UP’s Additional Chief Secretary (Information & MSME), said: “Our emphasis now is on increasing the number of RT-PCR tests.”
Health Minister Jai Pratap Singh told ThePrint that the state, like the rest of the country, was not prepared to handle the massive surge. “The numbers overwhelmed our system. No system can withstand it. The available medical infrastructure we have was simply not adequate to handle the huge number of cases,” he said.
To further compound the matter, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath along with more than 18 top officials tested positive for Covid-19, leading many to wonder who is in charge on the ground as the pandemic ravages through the state.
Covid-positive Yogi & his Team-11 ‘in action’
Senior officials and cabinet ministers in the UP government that ThePrint spoke to said though CM Adityanath is isolating at his 5, Kali Das Marg residence in Lucknow, it’s not that work has come to a standstill.
The CM is very much “in action”, holding daily virtual meetings to review the Covid-19 situation in the state along with his Team-11, a centralised power structure comprising ten of the topmost officials in the state, besides the CM, the officials said.
Currently, seven of the Team-11 members, including Secretary to CM Alok Kumar, Director General of Police Hitesh Chandra Awasthi, Additional Chief Secretary (Information & MSME) Navneet Sehgal and Principal Secretary (Agriculture) Devesh Chaturvedi, among others, are Covid-positive.
But Sehgal said this has not impacted work.
“The CM is holding a virtual meeting every day for two hours, between 10.30 am and 12.30 pm with Team-11, where all aspects related to Covid-19 situation in the state is discussed threadbare and quick decisions are taken, be it ramping up of hospital beds, medicines and increasing the supply of medical oxygen,” Sehgal said.
It was at one of these daily meetings Wednesday that the decision to stop the referral system from the chief medical officer (CMO) to get a Covid-positive patient admitted to hospital was taken.
He added that Team-11 members, who are infected with Covid-19, are also joining the virtual meeting from their home. “The CM, despite being infected with Covid-19, is coordinating and guiding us,” Sehgal added.
Besides ten of the top bureaucrats, Health Minister Singh and Medical Education Minister Suresh Kumar Khanna also attend the CM’s daily meetings.
A senior UP government official, quoted above, told ThePrint that barring the time Adityanath was campaigning for the assembly elections in West Bengal and Assam, he attended the meeting every day.
‘No doctor in Team-11’
The Team-11, comprising Chief Secretary R.K. Tewari, Principal Secretary to CM Sanjay Prasad, Home Secretary Awanish Awasthi and Navneet Sehgal, among others, was constituted last year soon after the Covid pandemic hit India. The team’s mandate was to tackle the emerging Covid-19 situation in the state, remove bottlenecks and expedite decision making.
“When the Covid situation in the state had eased a bit around November-December, CM took the Team-11 meetings twice a week. But since March, we have been meeting every day,” Jai Pratap Singh said.
Sehgal said it has been decided to increase the number of ICU and oxygen beds on an urgent basis. “Apart from ICU and oxygen beds, every day over 200 Covid beds are being added. We are roping in more private hospitals also to cater to Covid cases.”
However, many government officials, doctors and politicians told ThePrint that this centralised power structure with over reliance on officials is behind much of the state’s current woes.
“Team-11 was constituted to tackle the various aspects of the pandemic. However, it neither has any doctor or elected representative, except for the health and the medical education ministers, on board. Decisions are taken unilaterally. Cabinet ministers are not even consulted,” said a cabinet minister, who did not want to be named.
Reverse migration a big concern
Senior officials in the UP government said the large number of migrant workers returning to states is becoming a major cause of concern at a time Covid numbers are surging.
“Many of the migrant workers who are coming from high-caseload states like Maharashtra and Gujarat are testing positive,” said a government official, who did not want to be named.
The official added that the state government has set up 76,000 quarantine centres across the state to handle the flow of migrant workers.”Every village has one quarantine centre, where returnees have to isolate themselves before going home.”
(Edited by Sanghamitra Mazumdar)