(Satish Bate/HT Photo)
(Satish Bate/HT Photo)

Second Covid wave in Maharashtra, admits govt

After witnessing the peak of the first wave on September 17 with 24,619 cases, the daily caseload in Maharashtra had dropped to as low as fewer than 2,000 cases in the first week of February
By Surendra P Gangan, Mumbai
UPDATED ON MAR 17, 2021 12:40 AM IST

Days after the Central team’s visit to six Maharashtra districts and municipal corporations, the state government admitted that it is witnessing a second wave of Covid-19 infections and has begun taking measures to contain the spread of the virus.

After witnessing the peak of the first wave on September 17 with 24,619 cases, the daily caseload in Maharashtra had dropped to as low as fewer than 2,000 cases in the first week of February. After reporting 1,927 infections on February 2, cases started rising to 17,864, the highest single-day spike after 167 days (18,317 cases were clocked on September 30), on Tuesday.

As of March 15, 65.72% of the daily caseload (85,696 out of 130,547) and 65.64% of the active cases (9,893 of the 15,051) were from eight districts — Pune (14.5% of total and 20.27% of active); Nagpur (16.26% of total and 13.88% of active); Thane (3.41% of total and 9.71% of active); Mumbai (11.38% of total and 10.19% of active); Nashik (6.66% of total and 6.15% of active); Jalgaon (4.65% of total and 3.80% of active); Ahmednagar(3.64% of total and 1.74% of active) and Aurangabad (5.22% of total and 6.05% of active) — which are being closely monitored by state authorities.

On Tuesday, the state also reported 87 deaths, taking the tally to 2,347,328 and toll to 52,996, while its active case count surged to 1,38,812. The case fatality rate (CFR) of the state stands at 2.49% and the recovery rate at 95.66%..

A team of three senior officers attached to central institutions from the public health sector visited Mumbai, Kalyan-Dombivli, Nashik, Dhule, Jalgaon and Aurangabad districts/cities between March 7 and 12. The Central team has observed it to be the beginning of the second wave in Maharashtra and has also expressed displeasure over the handling of the spike in the state. In a letter sent by Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan to Maharashtra chief secretary Sitaram Kunte, the Centre has pointed at limited contact tracing, poor rate of institutional isolation, fewer tests. The Centre has also asked the state to ramp up its health infrastructure, earmark the most infected areas as containment zones and chalk out a strategy for the better clinical management of patients.

“Any suggestions for the betterment of the system are welcome and should be taken positively. It is true that cases are on the rise in a second surge in Maharashtra and the infectivity rate has increased, which is a cause of worry. But at the same time, our CFR is around 0.5%, which used to be 2.5% last month. We have enough number of beds, ICU beds available in the hospitals. 90% of the patients are asymptomatic, leading to a speedy recovery,” said state health minister Rajesh Tope.

Tope said that according to the recommendations by the Centre, the state has increased number of tests to around 125,000 per day and Maharashtra’s per million tests rate is one of the highest in country.

“As suggested by the Centre, we have been earmarking containment zones with perimeter control. At the same time we have been taking efforts to reduce the crowding at public places by banning social, religious and political programmes. Establishments have been told to operate their offices at half their capacity and encourage work from home. On the other hand, I am meeting Union health minister Harsh Vardhan with the request of releasing 20 lakh (2 miilion) doses per week as we want to speed up inoculation,” Tope said in Delhi on Tuesday.

Dr Pradeep Awate, state surveillance officer, said that the state has been witnessing the second wave and the cases are likely to cross the peak witnessed during the first wave. “There are no two opinions that we have been witnessing the spike in the cases. But we have started ramping up our health infrastructure and are taking to the level of capacity we had in September. We have also been facing the paucity of the manpower in the urban areas for the tracking, tracing of the contacts. We had pulled on manpower engaged in various government departments and included teachers, home guards to drivers-conductors in public transport as they were free owing to the lockdown then,” he said.

Dr Awate said that the district and city administrations have been told to ramp up their health infrastructure. “Nagpur has been reporting more cases than Pune and Mumbai, which have comparatively better infrastructure. The tracing, testing has been increased in the areas with high number of cases. They have also been told to better the monitoring of the people in home isolation. We have only 30% patients in home isolation, and have enough beds and isolation wards to take up more number of people, if need be,” he said.

Civil surgeon Dr Devendra Patulkar, from Nagpur, said that several factors have contributed to the rise in cases. “Most importantly, after December 2020, the public had put their guard off. They didn’t follow precautionary measures like wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. Soon, the chain of infection started, which is now spreading across the district,” he said. “However, so far, we haven’t received any case of virus mutation in the district,” he added.

Dr Sundar Kulkarni, civil surgeon from Aurangabad, also blamed the public for the rise in cases in the district. “The public would go to roadside crowded eateries and remove their masks. Also, we have observed large gatherings of people in marriages and family functions. With the relaxation of the lockdown, hundreds of marriages took place,” he said. “We are also conducting tests in large numbers, which is also contributing to the overall numbers,” he added.

Meanwhile, Tope met the Union health minister and requested to release 2 million doses of vaccine per week, enabling Maharashtra to inoculated 1.77 crore people from the priority groups that are being vaccinated. “We will need 2.20 crore doses to inoculate health care, frontline workers, senior citizens above 60 years of age and comorbid people above 45 years. We have planned to complete their inoculation by June-end. In the backdrop of the rising number of Covid-19 cases, we have decided to ramp up the vaccination programme,” he said. Tope said that the union health minister has said more doses will be released for Maharashtra.

Tope also has requested the Central government to allow 158 more private and public hospitals to set up vaccination centres. Of the 367 hospitals for which the demand was raised, 209 have been given permission, while the remaining are still awaiting the centre’s approval. He also has requested to relax the norms of compulsion of the 100-bed capacity at the vaccination centre by bringing it down to 50 beds to facilitate opening of more such centres.

Interestingly, the daily caseload in Amravati, where a sharp spurt was witnessed at initial stage after cases started rising last month, has reported fewer cases in the past few days. Amravati clocked 351 cases on Tuesday, a sharp fall from 773 two weeks ago on March 2. Amravati was the first district to impose complete lockdown last month amid the spike.

(with inputs from Rupsa Chakraborty)

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