On the night of July 11, Bhagalpur District Magistrate Pranav Kumar issued an order handing over charge to ADM Rajesh Jha. It said Kumar had tested positive for Covid-19 and had been advised to go to Patna for treatment. A day later, ADM Rajesh Jha and other senior district officials also tested positive, signalling the rising Covid curve in Bihar, with Patna and Bhagalpur being the worst hit.
Bhagalpur, a district with a ‘Smart City’ and more than 1,500 villages, is recording an increasing number of cases, which is straining the hospital system. On June 8, as ‘Unlock’ began, the district had 245 cases and one death. A month later, on July 8, the case load was 693 with seven deaths. Barely six days later, the number has increased by 441, adding up to 1,134 cases, and 12 deaths, the second highest in the state after Patna. Of these cases, 625 have been discharged, and 437 are active.
On July 8, the district administration announced a lockdown from July 9 to 16.
JLN Medical College and Hospital — a dedicated Covid hospital that caters to several eastern Bihar districts — has less than 20 critical patients, and less than a 100 requiring hospitalisation. Under the rules, only those who require hospitalisation are taken to the Mayaganj hospital, while the rest are put in converted Covid Care Centres like teacher training institutes. Dr Hemshankar Sharma, in charge of the Covid isolation ward at JLN Hospital, said that most patients are asymptomatic. “About 14-15 patients are serious. There are about 76 patients in the hospital now, with some more to be admitted,” Sharma said on Sunday.
A newly constructed Maternal and Child Healthcare, which has 100 beds, is also serving as a Covid isolation ward. A doctor at the hospital, however, said the wing is facing overcrowding, especially in the male section. “There are three components, ICU, male and female. In the male ward there is some congestion, while the female ward is a little empty,” a doctor said.
Dr Sharma said that the need for additional beds is being taken care of. JLN hospital has 600 beds that can be readied at any point, he said. “Thirty beds will be ready in two days, 60 beds in the medicine department have been readied. Ninety beds are connected to oxygen pipeline, 60 have a central line, and for the other 30 I have 200 cylinders.”
However, doctors admitted that roadblocks in acquisition of central pipelines for oxygen had hampered an upgrade in beds for the “last two to three months”. “Supplies from Kolkata are on hold because of the lockdown. Copper wiring etc for a central pipeline is not being delivered,” a doctor said.
Meanwhile, the number of patients dying has risen from 7 to 12 in the previous month. Dr Sharma said that since June 15, the nature of patients coming to hospital has changed. “Earlier patients were coming in stage one, with a little cough or cold, fever, a little breathlessness, we gave a little oxygen and they were better. Patients are now coming at 50-60 per cent oxygen. Patients are dying in six to eight hours. Or they are co-morbid. With the lockdown ending, social distancing and masks have almost disappeared… But the death rate is still low,” Dr Sharma said.
He added, “We are trying to push people to go into home quarantine. People think I just want to release beds. But I don’t have an issue with beds. With a little improvement, we will be fine, that is in terms of the oxygen.”
The local MLA, Ajeet Sharma from the Congress, said, “There is no control. First there was no testing. Now that there is some testing, there is no sanitisation. The Nagar Nigam is not even sanitising areas where there have been cases. Officers are not following orders. JLN Hospital is dirty, private doctors are not treating anyone. The system has collapsed. The DM got corona and left for Patna. If there is good treatment here, why don’t you get treated here?”
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