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Rise in number of active Covid-19 cases a cause for concern in Pune; city reported 7,147 new infections on Friday

As one of the biggest cities in the country, Pune has all the right conditions that favour the spread of an epidemic like this. What is surprising, however, is that its situation is worse than many other larger urban agglomerations where conditions are even more suitable.

Written by Amitabh Sinha
Pune | Updated: March 27, 2021 2:56:12 pm
Covid testAll evidence suggests that infections in the current wave is producing relatively milder disease in the patients, and that means that over 80 per cent of the patients are able to make do with home isolation. (File photo)

One of the many little-understood facts of the coronavirus pandemic has been the large number of infections in Pune. On Friday, Pune scaled a new high by reporting 7,147 positive cases. This was preceded by two days of 6,000-plus cases, which were also more than the previous peak that the city had achieved.

With Friday’s addition, Pune has now seen over five lakh confirmed infections since the start of the epidemic, more than any other city in the country, apart from Delhi, which has a total caseload of over 6.5 lakh. With more than 50,000 currently infected patients, Pune also has the highest count of active cases in the country right now.

Even last year, Pune had been detecting very high numbers. It had reported close to 6,000 cases on September 10, that remained the record for any city before Delhi surpassed it in November.

As one of the biggest cities in the country, Pune has all the right conditions that favour the spread of an epidemic like this. What is surprising, however, is that its situation is worse than many other larger urban agglomerations where conditions are even more suitable.

Pune is not as populous as Delhi or Mumbai or Kolkata, neither is it more densely packed. It doesn’t get as many foreign travellers as Delhi or Mumbai or Bengaluru or Hyderabad. There is no evidence to suggest that people in Pune are any more reckless in following physical distancing or wearing masks compared to any of the other cities.

With more than 50,000 currently infected patients, Pune also has the highest count of active cases in the country right now.

Pune is not even testing more than other cities. In fact, testing in Pune has been relatively modest compared to Delhi and Mumbai. On Friday, for instance, Pune tested about 27,000 samples, its highest so far. Mumbai, in the last few days, has started testing close to 40,000 samples daily. Overall, Pune has carried out about 27.5 lakh tests. Mumbai has done over 38 lakh tests, while Delhi has tested more than 1.4 crore samples.

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Incidentally, a serosurvey carried out in Pune last year had showed that in some areas of the city, the level of infection in the population had reached more than 50 per cent. No other city has reported such high prevalence rates from any of its areas even now. That was the reason why decline in numbers in Pune, during the months of November to January, was considered very sustainable.

However, the current rise in cases has belied those expectations, although it is true that the areas that had reported high prevalence rates at that time are not reporting big numbers now. The surge in the city is being powered by other areas. And like so many other things about this pandemic, it is largely unexplained.

At this time, the biggest concern in Pune is the rise in active cases. More than 80 per cent of the allocated beds in the Pune Municipal Corporation areas are already occupied. There are very few ICUs and oxygen-support beds available. During the worst phase last year, very few non-Covid patients were admitted in hospitals. But that is not the case right now.

Hospitals had returned to near normalcy in January and February, and regular treatments and surgeries had started. Hospitals are finding it difficult to suddenly halt all their other operations to accommodate the rush of Covid19 patients. There are also reports that many of the ventilators that were deployed last year have become non-functional due to lack of proper care and maintenance after they had been taken off.

All evidence suggests that infections in the current wave is producing relatively milder disease in the patients, and that means that over 80 per cent of the patients are able to make do with home isolation. Fewer people are requiring hospitalization. But even this smaller proportion is translating in large absolute numbers now.

The deaths have also begun to rise in the city, which is not unexpected considering the huge jump in infections. On Friday, 37 deaths were reported from the district, taking the total number of coronavirus deaths in Pune to 9,761.

Curiously, there is a big mismatch in the death numbers reported by the district and those mentioned in the state government data. The state government figures have so far recorded only 8,255 deaths in Pune. The discrepancy has been persisting for several weeks now.

One of the reasons for this is the existence of multiple databases, and the differences in manner in which deaths are mapped to districts. A person from outside the district dying in a Pune hospital might get counted as a Pune death in one database, but not in another. But again, it is not clear why the discrepancy would be so big in the case of Pune and not any other district.

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