Covid-19: Madhya Pradesh has highest death rate, poor state response
Giving an example of how lightly the officials took the Covid-19 situation, a health department officer said even social distancing norm was not practised in the Covid-19 control room at state’s health directorate.Updated: Apr 11, 2020 13:49 IST
Madhya Pradesh on Friday reported the highest death rate of Covid-19 patients in India with almost the entire health department either in quarantine or in hospitals. The health experts said the high deaths and spurt in cases indicated poor state response to the deadly virus in the state.
The first four cases in the state were reported from Jabalpur on March 20, the day when chief minister Kamal Nath resigned from his post two hours before he was to face a floor test in the state assembly to prove the majority of his government.
Bhopal joined the list of Covid-19 affected cities in the state on March 22 with one patient.
On March 23, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Shivraj Singh Chouhan took over as the new chief minister for the fourth time but without any cabinet minister. That day, the state had seven cases in total.
In the next two days, the number of Covid-19 positive cases went up to 15 and the number of districts from where the cases were reported increased to six from two. Till the end of March, the number of cases increased to about 66 with five deaths. Only 1,000 samples for the Covid-19 test were collected and there were only three labs approved by ICMR , according to the health department bulletin.
By then, there was a clear indication that Indore was turning out to be the Covid-19 hotspot in the state with 66% of the total cases and three of five deaths. Officials said the local administration failed to enforce the nationwide lockdown in Indore in letter and spirit after which Chouhan replaced the collector and deputy inspector general (DIG) Police in Indore.
“But it was too late and too little. Damage had been done. Those who had contracted virus in Indore were spreading within their areas. The situation was about to explode and it happened. Had there been testing of samples on a large scale, Indore’s story would have been different today,” said an official from Indore who was not willing to be named.
In a fortnight since then, the state on Friday had 451 cases in 20 out of the total 52 districts and 36 deaths in 6 districts. Indore accounted for 235 of these cases and 26 deaths. Madhya Pradesh has conducted only 70 Covid-19 tests, per million population, as per the analysis of data provided by the state government.
Within 24 hours of his taking over, the CM replaced Chief Secretary Gopal Reddy and appointed Iqbal Singh Bains in his place. Reddy had taken over just 7 days back. Amid the spread of coronavirus cases, the CM also replaced health secretary Prateek Hajela on April 1, blaming him for poor response to the pandemic with Faiz Ahmad Kidwai. Pallavi Jain Govil, principal secretary in the health department had not reported to authorities that her son had returned from the US.
On April 2, a managing director and IAS officer in National Health Mission (NHM) tested Covid-19 positive. On April 4, another IAS officer in the health department tested positive. Children of the IAS officer and another director in directorate who also tested positive for Covid-19 had returned from abroad, which was not reported to authorities. After being tested positive, both insisted to work from home saying they did not have any Covid-19 symptoms. On April 8, both of them were forcefully taken to a hospital.Till then, 18 health department officials, including the director of health services, had tested positive and 40 others were in mandatory home quarantine.
“The two IAS officers heading the department showed symptoms of cold and cough almost the same time but they continued to attend the meetings in the directorate and the state secretariat,” a health department official said, requesting anonymity. He said the two were responsible for more than 50 officials including several IAS officers having to self-quarantine. Some of these IAS officers were heading important departments.
Giving an example of how lightly the officials took the Covid-19 situation, another health department officer said even social distancing norm was not practised in the Covid-19 control room at state’s health directorate.
“The control room later became an epicentre of coronavirus as the two IAS officers and the director used to come there regularly,” he said.
However, the state government in an official statement sought to justify the stand of the officers and said their sons had cleared the screening at the airport. They had no symptoms and they had completed the quarantine period.
Amid all this, the health department employees across the state threatened to go on strike claiming that there were not enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits for health workers.
Despite efforts, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan could not be reached for his comments. Additional chief secretary, health, Mohammed Suleman, who has now been asked to handle the Covid-19 situation as the head of health department, didn’t respond to calls and text messages.
Public health expert Amulya Nidhi said the CM didn’t hold even a single video conference with the chief medical officers of all districts or public representatives. It was on April 10 that the CM sought suggestions from former chief minister Kamal Nath and leaders like Digvijaya Singh and Uma Bharti, he said.
“The way the officers were shifted demoralised other officers. In fighting corona, the government’s entire focus was on social distancing, which is not bad. But there should have been an equal focus on procuring test kits, PPE and other equipment. To me, MP is the worst managed Covid state in the country,” he said.
Former minister and Congress leader, Ajay Singh said, “Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan messed up everything in trying to become a one-man army. Also, when the entire world was concerned over the corona pandemic the CM was busy in toppling the then Congress government.”
However, state BJP spokesperson Rajneesh Agrawal said, “When the BJP government came the situation was very bad. The then Congress government had not taken any measures. There was no effort to procure PPE kits, testing kits etc. The BJP government took prompt measures to control the situation.”