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Preparedness not enough for second wave of Covid: Sudhakar

Bengaluru : The second wave of Covid-19 pandemic has seen a sharp surge in infections and a higher number of people requiring hospitalization across the country
By Sharan Poovanna
UPDATED ON APR 26, 2021 12:38 AM IST

Bengaluru : The second wave of Covid-19 pandemic has seen a sharp surge in infections and a higher number of people requiring hospitalization across the country. In Karnataka and particularly in its capital, Bengaluru, the lack of preparedness has added to the pressure on the already overstressed healthcare infrastructure, shortage in medicines and oxygen, leading to a higher number of fatalities. The BS Yediyurappa-led state government has imposed lockdown-like restrictions across the state to contain the virus. However, Dr K Sudhakar, Karnataka’s minister for health, family welfare and medical education, in an interview with Hindustan Times, said the government has got the pandemic under control.

Edited excerpts

What is the Covid-19 situation in the state and what measures are being taken by the government to control it?

We need to make sure that positivity rate decreases by curbing a lot of activities, following Covid appropriate behaviour (CAB), especially in Bengaluru and other places where there is a higher population. The pandemic chain can be broken in 14 days of isolation and minimising activities. Pandemic has brought in a new way of life, and we should adapt to it.

As a government, we should briskly vaccinate our people, which is the only way to save people from successive waves. We also augment our health infrastructure, human and medical capital like intensivist, anesthetist, nursing, para-medical and create a huge pool of human resources with students of medical and nursing colleges. We should ensure oxygen concentrators and portable machines are also bought in large numbers, which can be kept at homes or Covid care centres (CCC).

All these three strategies should work parallelly to control the pandemic.

The expenditure on health from governments should be not less than 8% of the GDP to build a robust health infrastructure, public awareness, better hygiene, nutritional value. It should be a holistic approach.

Have the learnings from the first wave been translated into the second wave?

Definitely there is preparedness this time, but not enough. The second wave spread was so fast, almost three to four times the first one. We had prepared for twice the number, but the spread is four times. No country can build the kind of infrastructure that is required for today’s pandemic. Controlling the pandemic by action is more important than treatment after getting infected. Very quickly preparedness is happening around the country. The Centre and state government will fight this out and we will handle the situation before it goes out of control. The pandemic is definitely under control in Bengaluru and Karnataka, otherwise you would have seen the queue (outside hospitals) like in other cities. That situation has never arisen even though we have the highest number of active cases.

A report by the Technical Advisory Committee in November predicted the second wave in February or March. How did the government prepare from submission of reports till the onset of the second wave?

We have been continuously ramping up the health infrastructure ever since the pandemic broke out last year. For example, we had two testing labs in February 2021, which has now been increased to 192. There were about 5,000 oxygenated beds in government hospitals and medical colleges, which have now been ramped up to more than 30,000, an increase of about 6 times. But the scale of this pandemic is so unprecedented that no amount of preparation is sufficient. We have witnessed this even in advanced economies like the US and the UK. The UK has had three national lockdowns so far.

Did by-lections and campaigns also contribute to the spread in other districts?

Last year was a tough year for the economy due to the slowdown induced by the lockdown. Just when things were returning to normalcy, we are grappling with the second wave. We can’t single out any one factor for the spread when all other activities were opened up. The mutated nature of the virus has also contributed to the increased spread of infection. The virus seems to be more contagious if not more virulent in the second wave.

However, personally I am of the opinion that an autonomous institution like the Central Election Commission should take a serious call on whether it is safe and necessary to conduct elections amidst the pandemic.

There are under 20 ICU/ICU-V beds remaining in Bengaluru, how do we get more as denial of treatment of critical persons is leading to higher fatalities?

We have enough general beds. The problem is with the oxygenated and ICU beds, especially in Bengaluru. According to ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research), the requirement of oxygen is higher in the second wave at 54.5% compared to 41.1% in the first.

Government is preparing to set up 2,000-3,000 modular ICUs and ventilator beds at Victoria hospital campus. We have made it mandatory for all private medical college hospitals in the state to reserve 75% of the beds for Covid-19 treatment. There are about 14 medical colleges in Bengaluru alone.

In total, we have about 8,382 oxygenated beds, 1,321 ICUs and 721 ventilators in Bengaluru. Thanks to quick response from the Centre, Karnataka’s daily allocation of medical oxygen has been increased from 300 MT to 800 MT. Karnataka has also been allocated 122,000 vials of remdesivir. Private hospitals have been instructed to establish step down units in collaboration with nearby hotels to ensure that hospital beds are available to those who need it. We will also be strengthening tele-consultation through Aptamitra, so that asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic people under home isolation feel confident and they do not get paranoid about finding bed.

Why did the government not go in for a lockdown earlier when Karnataka and Bengaluru started posting record numbers?

Government has a tough task to keep the economy running even while we keep the pandemic under check. That’s why a calibrated approach has been taken instead of complete lockdown.

By your predictions, till when is this wave going to last and what is the estimated number of infections till then?

Experts have opined that the infections in the state will peak by the first week of May and the second wave will slow down by the end of May.

Does the state have the monetary muscle to deal with the rising cost of the pandemic?

As we know all governments across the world are facing a revenue crunch due to the pandemic. But both Centre and state governments under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi and CM Yediyurappa are committed to ensure that the pandemic is defeated at all costs.

The fact that the CM has already earmarked 400 crore to procure 10 million doses of vaccine shows the intent and commitment of our government.

Could the state government have done better in handling the second wave?

As I said, the scale of the second wave is unprecedented. Even countries like the US, which has a robust healthcare system and spend several times more than what we spend on healthcare, couldn’t sustain this pandemic. More than 5.7 lakh people have died in the US so far, which is 3 three times more than the casualties in India.

We need to get our act together and fight this pandemic. We need to be optimistic and instill confidence among people. Spreading panic and negativity will not help.

How are we preparing for subsequent waves of infections in the imminent future?

Vaccination is our biggest weapon to prevent the third wave. India is the fastest country to have administered more than 140 million doses of vaccine in just 99 days. In Karnataka, we have administered about 8.5 million doses of vaccine. Since vaccine is made open to all above 18 years of age from May 1, our government will accelerate the vaccination drive to inoculate as many people as possible at the earliest.

I have already spoken to industry bodies like FKCCI and CII and requested them to ensure 100% vaccination of all employees and their families.

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