Monday musings: How, and why, Pune’s Covid scenario went from bad to worse
Last week, we had two spells of thunderstorms accompanied by heavy showers in Pune.
That brought respite to the city suffering from the scorching sun. The cool breeze that followed should have brought cheer to many, but in these gloomy times, it went largely unnoticed.
The current gloom is akin to September last year, when Pune saw many dying without beds or ambulances. In fact its intensity is even more this time, given that many were out happily violating Covid norms. As a result, the second wave is hitting many of those who successfully kept the virus at bay during first outbreak.
The overall case fatality rate has been low this time amid a rising caseload, but there are horrific stories of the virus ravaging families.
Pune was one of the worst affected districts in the country during first wave, overtaking Delhi and Mumbai in terms of active case load in September 2020.
This time too, it maintained that status, except that the capacity of local government along with state administration has been exposed like never before.
How has the political leadership dealt with the situation so far? The answer, many would say, not up to the mark.
While those representing the PMC have blamed the state government, which in turn passed the buck onto the Centre, for various kinds of shortages.
On the ground, leadership at the local body level or from the state and Centre, continues to be missing in action.
Maharashtra has two most powerful ministers from Pune – deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, who also holds the finance portfolio; and home minister, Dilip Walse Patil – besides junior minister Dattatray Bharne.
While Pawar has been reviewing the situation in Pune district every Friday, his absence in the city on other days is largely conspicuous at a time when a five million population is facing an unprecedented situation.
Walse Patil, a labour minister until recently, isn’t visible anywhere, while Bharne’s focus is limited to his constituency of Indapur.
The city has six BJP MLAs and two from the NCP, though Puneites have not heard much from them as regards making an effort to ramp-up health capacities goes.
Pune also has representation at the Centre with Prakash Javadekar being a minister in Narendra Modi’s cabinet. Javadekar is also tasked with the responsibility to coordinate with Maharashtra to cater to state’s needs on the Covid front. His presence in Pune though is only felt intermittently; the most recent being last week, when he announced that Pune will get 165 ventilators.
His colleague Girish Bapat is seen at agitations on issues like restarting the public transport service of Pune Mahanagar Parivahan Mahamandal Limited (PMPML).
It’s a fact that Pune has created a ventilator-bed capacity equal to Mumbai and Delhi. This, though Pune doesn’t have big government hospitals like AIIMS. However, this was possible mostly due to private partnership as public infrastructure is falling short. Even after district administration’s order, the supply of anti-viral drug Remdesivir hasn’t been restored with demand outgrowing supply in terms of the number of doses Pune is getting.
On April 9, NCP chief Sharad Pawar managed to directly source 480 vials for Baramati alone when the city was scrambling for the drug, which many believe is life saver.
On the vaccination front, Pune has had lead, though in the past one week, it lost momentum as a result of a drop in supply of doses, for which the state has rightly blamed the Centre.
The capacities of the state government and local civic body in Pune have been found wanting even when they had a whole year to ramp-up infrastructure. When Amravati and Yavatmal districts in Maharashtra reported a 40% daily positivity rate, it should have sounded the alarm bells. However, from PMC, to the state government, to those representing Pune at the centre, were complacent. The result - horrific stories like the entire Jadhav family of four wiped out by the virus.