A health worker conducts COVID-19 testing of a passenger at KSRTC bus stand, amid surge in coronavirus cases in Bengaluru. (PTI Photo)
A health worker conducts COVID-19 testing of a passenger at KSRTC bus stand, amid surge in coronavirus cases in Bengaluru. (PTI Photo)

Blame game continues amid Covid-19 surge in Bengaluru

  • The city's civic body was quick to pin the blame on party halls, gyms and swimming pools for the spike.
By Sharan Poovanna | Edited by Sparshita Saxena, Hindustan Times, Bengaluru
PUBLISHED ON MAR 20, 2021 12:56 AM IST

The curse of March has returned to haunt India's IT capital a year after the very first Covid-19 infection which was reported on March 8 last year in Bengaluru. The city seems to be witnessing a reverse in the decline of its Covid-19 cases and triggering the onset of a possible second wave of the deadly virus.

For the first time in months, the total number of cases in Bengaluru crossed the four-figure mark as the IT hub recorded 1,037 cases and six fatalities in the last 24 hours on Thursday due to Covid-19. The spike takes the total number of active cases to 8,623 of the total 12,067 across the state.

The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the city's civic body, on Friday morning, was quick to point the blame on common areas like party halls, gyms and swimming pools within large apartment complexes as one of the main reasons for the spike.

"According to our analysis, when people mingle here, cases spread. We are sending a proposal to the government to close these facilities," N Manjunath Prasad, the BBMP commissioner told reporters on Friday.

He also hinted at the possibility of halving the seating capacities in cinema halls that was met with stiff resistance and denial by chief minister BS Yediyurappa.

There have been at least two big-ticket Kannada movie releases in recent weeks during which people were seen dancing outside theatres with no semblance of any social distancing or wearing masks.

Though Karnataka was one of the first states to implement a lockdown when there were barely any cases, it was also among the fastest to relax restrictions when the caseload was at its highest to allow resuming of economic activities and bringing in some much-needed revenues to the cash-starved state.

This economic consideration has remained the biggest priority for Karnataka despite the sharp spike in cases over the last fortnight. The state government has also put the onus of containing the spread on the people while turning a blind eye on its own shortcomings like contact tracing, surveillance and preventing large gatherings across the state and its capital, Bengaluru.

The government argues that it cannot do the job alone and requires active cooperation from its citizens. But the same government has refused to rein in large political gatherings and meets where masks and social distancing are rarely followed, let alone enforced, experts and activists said.

One senior government official attributed the rise to people failing to maintain isolation requirements within the households.

"Contact tracing and tracking have been thrown in the wind. All this remains on paper but on the ground, very few of such protocols are being followed," said a private medical professional, requesting not to be named. He added that authorities have been working for over a year and fatigue factor appears to have set in. "We cannot take the same approach we took last year again," he said.

According to government data, there are 4.46 contacts (primary and secondary) per patient across the state.

But the data does not support the number of people in active quarantine.

Multiple people who were infected do not recall the BBMP or any other agency getting in touch to get details of travel history or trace their contacts.

Medical practitioners said that the government will take all precautions and follow the protocols of any Covid-19 positive person who has got any media attention. The practitioners were referring to a Shivamogga-based individual who was tested positive for the South African variant of the virus.

While the government and the BBMP continue to blame the spike on people coming from neighbouring states like Maharashtra as "spreaders", it has so far refused to change its approach and bolster efforts into rectifying faltering contact tracing, surveillance, raising awareness nor enforcing safety protocols in public spaces, according to multiple people including medical practitioners.

Bengaluru accounts for 8,623 active cases out of the total 12,067 across the state.

CM Yediyurappa, his cabinet colleagues and officials have attributed the spike to the rise in cases in border districts. However, the four main border districts - Belagavi, Dakshina Kannada, Kalaburagi and Bidar - (referred to by the chief minister) account for 1,266 active cases.

Karnataka was among the first to go in for a lockdown last March when there were barely any cases in the state but decided to relax restrictions when the number of positives was in the thousands. While Karnataka took pride in its efforts to keep the cases down till mid-2020, it rarely looked within for the exponential rise in the second half of last year.

Karnataka has tried to double its vaccination effort as a measure to contain the spread. But technical glitches like the app crashing, inaccurate data gathering and other problems, have added to the challenges of the state government. Doctors said that there used to be several instances of names being repeated, the app not registering the vaccination that impacts the second dose, among other problems.

The BBMP has denied any technical glitches, stating that the hospitals are responsible for data entry.

"We are seeing more cases but not a rise in serious cases," Dr HM Prasanna of Pristine Hospitals and president-elect of the Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association (PHANA) said.

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