Updated: April 3, 2021 9:36:44 pm
After being one of the key contributors to the country’s Covid-19 caseload till mid-October last year, Karnataka had been experiencing a declining trend in terms of people catching the infection. However, from the beginning of March, this year, the situation began to change again as the state began to report a fresh surge in cases, in first signs of a second wave.
With daily test positivity rates (TPR) shooting up by over six times, the number of cases reported from across the state also kept rising.
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Just to put the numbers in context, the TPR, which was 0.62 per cent on February 28, rose to 3.89 per cent on March 31.
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More cases reported among those aged 20-40
However, different to the trend seen last year, the state reported most new cases among people aged 40 or less. Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa noted the difference after key meetings with public health experts and the Covid-19 technical advisory committee (TAC). “New cases are being reported more among people in the age group of 20 to 40 years,” the CM said, directing officials to enhance tracing, testing and treatment of cases to tamp down the surge to the extent possible.
The state reported 45,753 new cases and 210 deaths in March alone. Bengaluru Urban continued to be the top contributor to the caseload and also topped the toll among 30 districts in the state. As per data issued by the Department of Health and Family Welfare Services, the district saw 29,190 new Covid patients, with 140 of them succumbing to the infection between March 1 and 31.
Ameen Mudassar, a member of the Emergency Response Team (ERT) set up by individuals and members of various NGOs and other organisations in the city, told indianexpress.com that the demand for patients for being hospitalised shot up on a daily basis, reminding him of the surge experienced between September and October last year. “Requests to arrange for beds and ambulances doubled in March from what it was between January and February,” he said.
Dr Suri Raju V, medical director, Regal Multi-Speciality Hospital, confirmed that the admission rate at his hospital, like several other private hospitals in the city, was “increasing rapidly”. He said, “People have now realised that hospitals are the safest places. Most patients we get these days are young or middle-aged. Senior citizens (those aged above 60) are less in number comparatively.”
Dr Rehan Shahed, a BBMP nodal officer, attributed the rise in infection among people aged below 40 to their work or study lifestyle. “Initially, we began seeing an uptick again in the city as several students from neighbouring Kerala and Maharashtra tested positive when they came to the city to appear for offline examinations or classes. Several others had a travel history, as part of their work, to states with high caseloads,” he said.
Pubs, educational institutes turn hotspots
Incidentally, several clusters identified by BBMP in March included pubs, educational institutions and hostels. The municipal body was swift to react, introducing enhanced testing measures after several members of the staff from two popular pubs in the city tested positive during random checks.
“After identifying more cases at pubs in different parts of the city, we have decided to enhance testing among primary contacts as well. While most pubs and restaurants have recorded proper logs of visitors, a few have failed to do so. This is expected to make our jobs tougher in identifying clusters,” an officer in charge of Covid-19 surveillance said.
At the same time, the state government’s decision to continue classes and to hold examinations as scheduled in colleges and universities amid the second wave was called into question by many.
“We have been requesting the government to hold exams online for a long time now. Students like us are forced to travel from different states, spend more on RT-PCR tests and then attend exams and classes, always anxious about our safety. Even hostels and paying guest facilities in Bengaluru are now asking students to vacate the place if they test positive,” Aayush J, an engineering student from Kerala, said.
Manipal Institute of Technology (MIT) in Udupi district was identified by the Health department as the cluster, accounting for the state’s highest active caseload. Over 900 people on campus tested positive between March 15 and 31, according to data issued by the district administration.
Taking note of the same, TAC recommended schools and colleges to hold online classes over the next four weeks, with the exception batches that were to appear for key examinations. The panel of experts said offline classes should be allowed only for students of classes 10 and 12 (those with board exams). At the same time, it recommended that all colleges, except for health science students and those having examinations, should migrate to online sessions. However, the government is yet to take a decision on this.
‘Regular classes at schools are risky’
“Any change in behaviour that brings children close to each other especially in a closed environment like a classroom can increase the risk of spread. So, it is important to strictly adhere to WHO guidelines to mitigate transmission of the coronavirus,” a senior member of the technical advisory committee told indianexpress.com after submitting TAC recommendations to the state government.
Echoing the view, Dr Yuvaraj, a senior consultant pediatrician, said, “Holding regular classes in schools now is risky”, adding that all schools should be uniformly closed as during the lockdown period last year. “Covid-19 is known to spread faster among children, though it would not be symptomatic initially. However, we cannot ignore the risk of post-Covid syndromes among children,” he said.
Meanwhile, official data between March 1 and 26 said that over 470 children below the age of 10 contracted the infection. Of the infected children, 244 were boys and 228 girls. While cases from this age group were limited to a daily maximum of nine during the first few days of March, the figure rose to 46 by March 26, said officials.
The CM said students were more “disciplined” at schools than at home, adding, “Children will follow social distancing, will wear masks and use sanitisers when at home. When they are at home, there are more chances of them mingling with other children, this putting them at a higher risk of being infected”.
Confusion in revision of guidelines, CM acts tough
“With the authorities updating various guidelines and protocol more frequently, enquiries by people who wanted to enter Karnataka from other states or countries also grew manifold on covidhelplinebangalore.com,” Mudassar said.
Among the guidelines that created confusion among the public was the government announcing that a negative RT-PCR Covid-19 test report was mandatory for all interstate travellers to Bengaluru. Days after Health Minister Sudhakar made the announcement, BBMP Commissioner N Manjunatha Prasad clarified that the same was mandatory only for passengers from Maharashtra, Kerala, Punjab and the Union Territory of Chandigarh.
“We had proposed to make negative RT-PCR Covid test reports mandatory for passengers entering Bengaluru from all states. However, this was not approved by the state government,” Prasad said on his last day at office as BBMP commissioner.
Stepping in to sort out the lack of clarity, Yediyurappa directed ministers and heads of departments to refrain from giving orders on their own. “Ministers and heads of department can only provide explanation of the order to the media. They should not issue any statement to the media on imposing any kind of restrictions,” a circular issued by the CM stated.
‘Laxity among people for blame for second wave’
Dr Jagadish Hiremath, managing director and CEO, ACE Suhas Hospital, cited “a sense of laxity” among people as the key reason behind the second wave in Bengaluru and across Karnataka. “People seem to have not learnt from the first wave. Youngsters, especially, are being more negligent than before,” he said, adding, “Many youngsters, whose parents have been vaccinated feel that they are off the hook.”
Human rights activist Tanveer Ahmed said that the authorities need to step up enforcement of guidelines and extension of vaccination coverage. “It is high time our authorities went back to the same techniques used to contain the surge during the first wave. In addition to this, making vaccines available to the younger population is also quintessential to keep cases in check,” Ahmed said.
The state government has, meanwhile, stepped up micromanagement of cases in the state, especially in Bengaluru. Eight senior IAS officers were recently named nodal officers for each zone within the limits of the BBMP.
The CM said, “A total of 1,166 beds have been allocated for Covid-19 treatment in Bengaluru Urban and Bengaluru Rural. Each (BBMP) ward will have two mobile squads”.
While two Covid care centres to enable isolation and monitored healthcare for asymptomatic patients have been opened at Haj Bhavan and HAL recently, one more at Koramangala Indoor Stadium (National Games Village) is scheduled to begin operations on April 5.
With vaccination now being made available to everyone above the age of 45, the Karnataka government is hopeful that it will help in containing the second wave better. “Our only protective cover against coronavirus is the vaccine. Everyone over the age of 45 can now get vaccine shots. Go to your nearest vaccination centre and get the vaccine. Together, we can defeat coronavirus,” Yediyurappa tweeted on Thursday.
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