Covid-19: A warning bell for Bihar
Bihar is India’s third-largest state in terms of population. It also has the largest share of rural population in any state in the country. It has a large migrant workforce that after a long struggle made its way back home during the lockdown. Its socioeconomic indicators remain weak. And its health infrastructure is limited, with only 0.11 beds and 0.39 doctors available per 1,000 people.
When the pandemic spreads to Bihar, it is time to worry. Over the past month, anecdotal evidence and a series of reports have suggested that those with symptoms are unable to get tested; those who have tested positive have struggled to find hospital beds; those who have developed severe symptoms are unable to access medical care, get ventilator support on time, and receive plasma donations; citizens have been lax in following social distancing protocols; health care personnel themselves are wary of providing care for the fear of being infected themselves; and that the contact tracing process is severely limited. A report in this newspaper on Monday showed that data corroborates these reports. While it has improved somewhat in recent days, Bihar has the lowest testing rate anywhere in the country — 7,917 tests per million people, when the national average is 18,086. Like other states, it is banking disproportionately on rapid antigen tests, rather than RT-PCR tests, which is a far more accurate barometer of judging infections. It has the third-worst doubling rate at 14.7 days, when the national average is 23.6 days.
While the government has made recent bureaucratic changes and accorded higher priority to Covid-19 management, the reports and data ring a warning bell. Bihar must follow the only successful model available to tackle the pandemic. Increase testing; rigorously trace the infected and their contacts; isolate those infected and treat them; ramp up health infrastructure; and enforce social distancing.