In just 10 days, Bengaluru has seen a six-fold rise in active Covid-19 cases
On Friday, July 3, a resident of Hanumanthanagar in Bengaluru who was suffering from fever and breathing difficulties collapsed in the middle of the road even as his family ran from pillar to post across seven different private and government hospitals to get him admitted, but to no avail. Eventually, the man died and his body lay prone on the road as it took four hours for an ambulance to finally arrive, only to eventually cart away the man’s body. His case is not alone. After an initial bout of success, the Karnataka government seems to have lost the plot on containing the rising Covid-19 cases especially in state capital Bengaluru .
On Sunday, when Medical Education minister Dr K Sudhakar visited the Jayanagar General Hospital, patients there poured out a litany of woes. From availability of ambulances to arrive at the hospital, hygiene, quality of food to time taken for Covid-19 reports to be provided, they highlighted numerous problems. Sudhakar admitted that there were issues and promised that 400 additional ambulances (at the rate of two per ward for the 200 wards in Bengaluru ) would be provided and complained that as cases mounted private hospitals which had promised to provide 2,734 beds had in fact provided only 116. Expressing his frustration the minister warned of initiating criminal cases against hospitals which did not provide treatment or turned away Covid-19 patients.
A day earlier on Saturday Jayanagar MLA Sowmya Reddy, daughter of Congress heavyweight Ramalinga Reddy, tweeted her anger at the government’s mismanagement of the situation after trying to help a constituent get a bed saying, “On the phone calling hospital after hospital. They don’t respond/switched off, if they do they say no beds with oxygen/ICU. So angry...pathetic state of our healthcare.”
Pointing out that inspite of being an MLA, this was her experience and said, “Imagine the plight of people who don’t have connections or strings to pull.” Reddy also said a 30-year-old and not just people with co-morbidities had died unable to get a hospital bed.
The state government’s response has been a mixture of denial and passing the buck.
Ever since the first case was detected on March 8 – that of a software engineer who had returned from the US – the government had been declaring its ‘success’ in containing the spread as well as the ‘low mortality’ rate in the state compared to other states with a similar size of population.
As recently as a month back – on June 6 to be precise – Bengaluru had a mere 162 cases of the 3,184 active Covid-19 cases in the state and did not even figure in the top three districts with most cases in the state. It then accounted for a mere 5 per cent of the total cases in Karnataka. However, as of Sunday it has 8,167 active Covid-19 cases and accounted for more than 60 per cent of all active cases in Karnataka.
How did things spin out of control so quickly? If opposition parties are to be believed it is gross incompetence and lack of coordination between various ministries. In the cabinet, the health and welfare minister is B Sriramulu and the Medical Education minister is Dr K Sudhakar. However, after some ego clashes, the Chief Minister was forced to nominate the primary and secondary education minister and one of the government’s most articulate spokespersons Suresh Kumar to brief the media and give daily updates on the statewide situation.
Sriramulu and Sudhakar themselves were accused of violating quarantine norms and later when the medical education minister had to go on home quarantine after family members tested Covid-19 positive, the CM nominated former Deputy CM and current revenue minister, the ambitious R Ashoka as the new Covid-19 spokesperson for the government.
After announcing various relief packages, the CM who saw that the treasury was empty decided to go full throttle on opening up of Bengaluru. Even as some migrant labourers wanted to go back to their native places, initially the state government refused permission and tied to dissuade them. After backlash by civil society and the opposition, the government reluctantly agreed but continued its plan to open up the city for business as it was the main revenue driver. A medical advisor to the Covid-19 taskforce who did not want to be identified said: “The pace at which the opening up of the city took place was probably too fast but the government had made up its mind.”
Former Bellary MP and Congress spokesperson V S Ugrappa says lack of co-ordination and one-upmanship between various ministers is one of the key reasons for things spinning out of control. “What was the government doing for the last three months? Were they sleeping? Why was infrastructure not put in place? Why are people dying waiting for ambulances and why are patients being turned away without treatment?”
However, a senior official of the health and family welfare department who did not want to be identified – as he is not authorized to speak to the media – said, “I think given the circumstances we have done a good job. The scale of the challenge is humongous. Yes, there might have been some lacunae which we are addressing but remember this is a situation without a precedent. Also, numbers went up as people also did not follow social distancing norms plus the testing has gone up, which all have led to the current situation. Things are under control and it is incorrect to paint a picture of it being otherwise.”
On Saturday, as thousands jammed the highways leading out of Bengaluru hoping to escape the city and the deadly spread of the virus, Vignesh Gowda an auto driver who originally hails from Chennapatna told HT, “I have a 3-year-old son and a wife. My younger brother tills some family land in Byrapatna. Instead of dying here, I would rather go back and take up agriculture until things improve.”
A worried CM on Monday appealed to people not to leave Bengaluru . “There is no need to panic. Please cooperate with the government. We have added 10,000 more beds as well as 450 more ambulances and if required will add more. Unfortunately, we have to co-exist with this situation as there is no solution for now. Your lives are important and the government is taking all measures to protect you.”
For now, though people of Bengaluru are apprehensive and worried about the evolving situation.