Bengaluru: Karnataka expects a surge of Covid-19 cases at the end of April and early May, as a result of which it is bracing for a long fight, Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa said.
Speaking to ThePrint in an exclusive interview, Yediyurappa said the state has also suffered a revenue loss of Rs 1,500 crore since the lockdown, forcing it to consider opening liquor outlets and allowing industries in the organised sector to function with 50 per cent of their staff.
Yediyurappa said his government is quite worried on the two fronts — the economy and the pandemic.
‘Expecting a spike in Covid-19 cases’
The chief minister said medical experts in the state have told the government that “a spike in the number of positive cases can be expected towards the end of April or early May”.
An expert panel headed by Dr Devi Shetty had, however, submitted a report stating that there is “no medical reason” to continue the lockdown beyond 14 April, when it is scheduled to end. It has recommended lifting the lockdown in a phased manner but reiterated that people should continue to follow the protocol of remaining indoors and in minimal contact with others.
But the Karnataka cabinet has suggested that the lockdown be extended.
“We will wait until PM Modi announces his decision on the lockdown. Dr Shetty has indicated a sudden spurt in the number of Covid cases by April end,” Yediyurappa said. “I appeal to people to maintain discipline and follow orders to stay inside their homes if we need to break the chain.”
The chief minister added that people were showing a callous disregard for the 21-day lockdown. “Until now, we have seized 28,000 vehicles across the state. Around 1,600 people have been arrested and an equal number of FIRs have been filed,” Yediyurappa said. “We have collected fines close to Rs 40 lakh. Despite this, of the 30 districts in Karnataka, nearly 15 are safe.”
Karnataka has managed to control the spread of Covid-19, moving from third place in the list of affected states to 11th as of Friday — 181 cases and five deaths.
Karnataka staring at economic slump for next 6 months
The chief minister said the cash-strapped state is staring at a major economic crisis.
According to Yediyurappa, the state has incurred losses of close to Rs 1,500 crore since the lockdown and is hence looking at opening liquor vends, one of its biggest revenue sources. Karnataka had collected Rs 19,701 crore in the 2019-20 fiscal year alone from liquor sales.
“The decision on opening liquor outlets to help generate revenue through excise will be taken after 14 April,” Yediyurappa said.
He added that the first instalment from the Centre’s State Disaster Response Mitigation Fund has not given Karnataka much relief. The state received Rs Rs 395.5 crore of the total Rs 11,067 crore to be shared among 27 states.
“This slump will continue for another six months. This month with much difficulty we have managed to pay the salaries of the government staff,” the chief minister said. “In the cabinet meeting, MLAs and MLCs have agreed to take a 30 per cent cut on their salaries to contribute towards the CM Relief Fund. All development activities have come to a standstill.”
The fear of a major economic slump has forced Karnataka to contemplate opening up industries in the organised sector with 50 per cent workforce, the chief minister said.
‘Will take action against those provoking communal enmity’
Yediyurappa agreed that comments by BJP MLAs Basanagouda Patil Yatnal and M.P. Renukacharya — who said Muslims not quarantining themselves after attending the Tablighi Jamaat congregation should be “shot dead” — unnecessarily hurt the BJP’s image.
The chief minister had Monday told a regional news channel that strict action would be taken against those who “blame the entire Muslim community for some isolated incident”. Several BJP supporters were upset by his stand and a hashtag, #WeLostHopeBSY, trended on social media Tuesday.
“I stand by my words,” the chief minister told ThePrint. “Rather a lot of people, 99 out of 100, approved the stand I took on the issue. A few people may have had issues. Even my party members made damaging statements. I have given them a strict warming and will also initiate action against them.”
He, however, appealed to those who attended the Nizamuddin Markaz convention to step forward for tests. “Those who were part of the Tablighi congregation should come forward and undergo check ups. Those in quarantine must adhere to the guidelines strictly,” he said.
The chief minister also denied a rift in his cabinet amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Health Minister B. Sriramulu and Medical Education Minister D.K. Sudhakar are said to have not been on talking terms since the Covid-19 crisis began.
The dispute is a result of a turf war on who should handle the crisis. While as health minister, Sriramulu should be in charge, Sudhakar is a practising doctor and has been handling the crisis.
Yediyurappa, however, denied there being any such problem.
“There is no difference of opinion between Sudhakar or Sriramulu. In fact, I have no problems with any of my ministers,” the chief minister said. “I can say that had it not been for my ministers Sriramulu and Sudhakar, we would not have been able to handle this situation so effectively.”
No Covid-19 patient allowed to enter state
The chief minister said the state is not looking at opening its borders any time soon. Karnataka had on Tuesday resolved a border dispute with Kerala agreeing to allow patients from its neighbour, who are not Covid-19 positive, to seek treatment in the state.
“At the borders, not a single Covid-19 patient is being allowed to enter. Only those who need emergency medical assistance that they cannot find in their own states, should cross into Karnataka,”Yediyurappa said.
“We appeal to all those who are coming into Karnataka for medical treatment only to cross the border to seek help if the kind of medical assistance they are seeking is not available in their state,” he added.