Updated: February 18, 2021 10:25:35 pm
At one point, around mid-June last year, Gandhi General Hospital in Hyderabad had close to 1,100 admissions – all of them Covid-19 positive. This was also when even asymptomatic patients and those under institutional quarantine were all housed at the same hospital premises. Private and district hospitals were not roped in for treatment of the viral infection. In the subsequent months, the daily numbers from across the state surged past 2000 and 3000. On August 25, Telangana recorded 3,018 new cases, the highest to date.
In the last few months, however, there has been a steady decline in the number of fresh cases. The daily number of fresh infections hovered around 500 to 600 in December when over 50,000 tests were being conducted. In January 2021, the daily average further dropped to around 150 to 300 and by mid-February, it has further dropped to 100-odd even as over 25,000 tests are being conducted, as per the records of the Directorate of Public Health. Gandhi hospital, designated as the nodal center for treatment of COVID-19, has just 46 COVID patients, as of February 17, under treatment, with 13 among them in ventilator support. On the whole, 1844 beds at the hospital are vacant. The same day, 163 fresh cases were reported from across the state.
A junior resident doctor at Gandhi hospital said doctors have gone back to their pre-COVID routine and treating the disease has become just like any other. “A lot has changed. In the last few weeks, we have had hardly five or six new admissions a day. We are witnessing a lot of pneumonia cases but fortunately results in 90 per cent of those test negative for Covid-19,” he said.
According to him, people seeking treatments are less apprehensive now to visit a hospital that also treats COVID patients. “Someone infected with coronavirus is still petrified. We get patients who complain of shortness of breath or present other comorbidities. What has changed is people’s behaviour towards such patients. There is very less fear in dealing with such patients,” the doctor explained.
Fear of a second wave
In the wake of a surge in cases of coronavirus infections in neighbouring Karnataka and Maharashtra, doctors feel it is just a matter of time before the second wave of infections hit Telangana. Public Health officials in Telangana have on many occasions in the last three months appealed to the public to follow COVID-19 protocols by ensuring proper sanitation, wearing a mask, and maintaining social distancing. “We don’t see anyone being serious about the virus anymore. A second wave is just a matter of time,” the doctor added.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, the director of Public Health and Family Welfare Dr. G Sreenivasa Rao reiterated the same and said people in the state should be more careful now than ever. He said the virus was still present in the population though weakened for the time being. “People may think that the cases are fewer, what is the need for a vaccine. It may gain strength and attack again. We advise people to get vaccinated when they get the opportunity,” said Dr. Rao.
On restrictions imposed in neighbouring states, he said the department is watching the developments. “We cannot rule out a second wave of coronavirus. We are more alert. We will now intensify our surveillance, testing, tracing, and isolation to cut the chain of transmission. Our request to the public is to follow Covid appropriate behaviour.” The department continues to test samples of symptomatic patients and their contacts at 1200 government centers and, he said, are ready to conduct up to 60,000 tests a day.
The government is of the view that the pandemic situation is completely under control in the state as the test positivity ratio is around 0.5 per cent and remains consistently well below 1 per cent despite 25,000 to 30,000 tests a day. “But we don’t know how things are going to be in the coming days. The vaccine is available and one should not hesitate to take it when the opportunity comes knocking,” he added.
‘Most lives saved’
The Economic Survey 2021, tabled in parliament recently, placed Telangana with Kerala and Andhra Pradesh to have saved the most lives during the pandemic. Earlier in October, a COVID-19 Performance Index developed by the Administrative Staff College of India and industry bodies FICCI and FTCCI declared Telangana the best among the five southern states on account of detection, containment, and treatment.
“Our strategy of conducting a steady number of tests for early identification and initiation of early treatment helped us cut the chain of transmission and reduced the mortality rate drastically. Ultimately it depends on the appropriate behaviour of the people,” he added. Meanwhile, several public health experts and medical practitioners have questioned the statistics laid down by the state. The department’s response, however, is that one can hide positive cases but not COVID fatalities and the case fatality ratio in the state is 0.54 per cent.
Responding to the decline of coronavirus cases in the state in the last several weeks, Dr. BR Shamanna, Epidemiologist and Professor at the University of Hyderabad, said it was hard for anyone to believe especially when people have become careless about the COVID protocols.
“It is possible that you are missing a lot of asymptomatic patients and it is also possible that their coexistence with the community could have built a bit of herd immunity. Right from the beginning when we started our efforts of controlling COVID-19 in Telangana, we have been on the back foot in terms of the number of tests conducted, contact tracing, etc,” he said.
An ICMR report on sero-surveillance, as recent as February 9, 2021, states that one in every four persons in Telangana has developed antibodies against COVID-19. The third round of sero-surveillance in districts of Jangaon, Nalgonda, and Kamareddy was conducted in December 2020 by the ICMR-National Institute of Nutrition. The report puts the seropositivity rate, indicative of a silent, prior exposure to Sars-COV-2, at 24.1 per cent in the state. For a population of 3.5 crores, it would mean approximately 87.5 lakh people have already been infected and recovered.
According to him, a look at the statistics over some time tells a different story. “I think we have been pretty lackadaisical by setting a formula to arrive at specific test positive rates and ensure it never crossed beyond that. If we look at it consistently, that is what we have been doing for a long time,” he alleged.
With the inoculation drive kicking in and equipped with learning from the previous year where the focus in entirety was on the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Shamanna felt that efforts should be to not let the guard down and once again create super spreaders. “The picture looks OK as of today. But the COVID-appropriate behaviour of distance, mask, and sanitation should be continued for at least another year though we are better equipped to deal with the coronavirus disease now,” he said.
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