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At heart of Andhra fire, a booming business in Covid care hotels

Swarna Palace had been leased by Vijayawada’s Ramesh hospital, which had kept 31 Covid-19 patients in its rooms. Twenty-one patients were rescued by police, firemen, and hotel and hospital staff on Sunday.

Written by Sreenivas Janyala | Hyderabad |
Updated: August 11, 2020 11:50:40 am
At heart of Andhra fire, a booming business in Covid care hotelsSwarna Palace was among 43 hotels in Vijayawada that had been leased by private hospitals to house patients. PTI

The 10 Covid-19 patients who were killed in the fire at Vijayawada’s Swarna Palace hotel early on Sunday had bought a daily ‘package’ of Rs 5,000, which included stay and three meals, hot drinks, and snacks.

Swarna Palace is one among 43 hotels in Vijayawada — 18 large and 25 small — that have been leased by private hospitals to house patients infected by the novel coronavirus. In Visakhapatnam, more than 30 big and small hotels have turned into Covid-19 care centres.

As the infection surges in Andhra Pradesh and the regular hospitality industry remains shuttered, ‘Covid care hotels’ have become a booming business here and in neighbouring Telangana, catering to hundreds of people who have the resources for treatment or quarantine in these rooms.

Editorial| Fire and pandemic

“Many hoteliers are leasing their properties to private hospitals, and several hotels have turned themselves into isolation centres for people returning from abroad or from other states, who are compulsorily quarantined for a week or 14 days,’’ a hotelier from Visakhapatnam said.

Swarna Palace had been leased by Vijayawada’s Ramesh hospital, which had kept 31 Covid-19 patients in its rooms. Twenty-one patients were rescued by police, firemen, and hotel and hospital staff on Sunday.

“The packages start from Rs 1,500 per day per person, which includes breakfast and two meals, hot beverages, and snacks. The price goes up with the quality of the hotel, and star hotels charge Rs 5,000 to Rs 8,000 per day per person,” an official of Telangana Super Speciality Hospitals Association said. “This is only for the stay and food,” the official said; “hospitals charge separately for treatment, and payment has to be made in advance.’’(Follow Andhra Pradesh, Telangana LIVE UPDATES here)

In Hyderabad, 36 hotels, including five-stars, have been converted into Covid care centres. Director of Public health G Srinivas Rao said patients requiring treatment or quarantine can choose from five star hotels, three star hotels, and rooms or living spaces available through Oyo or similar companies. “For compulsory isolation we have identified a few hotels and fixed their tariffs. Hotels that have been directly leased by private hospitals have their own package rates,’’ Rao said.

Telangana Health Minister Etela Rajender said that in some cases, private hospitals that have tied up with hotels have been charging exorbitant amounts for their “Covid-19 packages’’. While both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have capped treatment costs in private hospitals, neither government has put a ceiling on tariffs for hotel rooms that accommodate patients.

The pandemic situation in Andhra Pradesh is currently among the worst in the country, and the state has reported a surge of over 10,000 cases every day since August 5. The disease is also spreading extremely fast – as of Monday, the compounded daily growth rate over the last 7 days was 5.30%, and the doubling time calculated over 7-day growth was 13.59 days, both among the worst of all states.

Some hoteliers in Vijayawada have approached the Narayana and Chaitanya Group of educational institutions with offers to lease their colleges and hostels, and rent them out to private hospitals for use as Covid facilities.

“At least 5,000 rooms will be needed in the next one or two months in Vijayawada alone, and hotels do not have that capacity,” a hotelier in the city said. “We have to lease hostels and college buildings and convert them into temporary hotels and rent them to hospitals. We have to invest some money, but due to the high demand for hotel rooms from Covid-19 patients, the investment can be easily recovered easily,” he said.

Andhra Pradesh Health Minister A Krishna Srinivas said: “Covid-19 hotels has become a lucrative business. Private hospitals are taking advantage of the fear of patients and exploiting them in the name of offering Covid packages and charging hefty amounts. In spite of a lot of publicity that the government has arranged for good facilities and free treatment at government-run Covid care centres and hospitals, many people prefer private hospitals out of fear. The hospitals are taking advantage of this.’’

Dr P Srinivas, secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association, however, said there is a shortage of hospital beds for Covid-19 patients in all private hospitals in Vijayawada and other cities – and that “no hospital is overcharging”.

“Hospitals are tying up with hotels to provide proper isolation facilities and treatment. Packages or tariffs are decided by various factors. Hotels incur a lot of expenditure on sanitising the premises 2-3 times a day. They have to pay government authorities for safe disposal of PPE kits worn by visiting doctors and hospital staff who stay at the hotel, and provide food. These costs reflect in the package. No hospital is overcharging,” Dr Srinivas said.

Officials of Dr Srinivas’s association said corporate and private hospitals were overflowing. “Doctors who are getting infected are unable to get a bed even in the hospitals in which they work,” a member of the association said.

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