One year on, Vizag gas leak victims rue ‘govt. inaction’

Victims being rushed to hospital following the gas leak from LG Polymers that occurred in the early hours of May 7, 2020, in Visakhapatnam.   | Photo Credit: K.R. DEEPAK

“From 1942 to 1945, during World War II, we saw large-scale migration of people from Visakhapatnam after the city witnessed aerial attacks by the Japanese on April 6, 1942. During the 1962 Chinese aggression, there were many people who lived in bunkers. In 1965 and 1971, during the wars with Pakistan, there was apprehension of an attack on the city. During the 1975 emergency, we saw democracy at its lowest. Cyclone Hudhud had brought the city to its knees in 2014. But never did we feel so helpless and our sensibilities so numbed, as we felt during 2020,” said Prof. A. Prasanna Kumar, former Rector of Andhra University.

The professor’s statement summed up the year that just passed by, putting into perspective the emotional turmoil that the city and district went through during the pandemic.

It was a challenging year for the district, especially for the administration, as it had to handle challenges like COVID-19 on one hand as well as other events such as the styrene monomer vapour leak from LG Polymers on the other.

While frontline workers were on the ropes dealing with the outbreak of the pandemic, it was business time as usual for corporate hospitals who raked in money by charging exorbitant fees from COVID-19 patients.

Rising to the challenge

For the district administration, it was a challenge as the city was earmarked as a potential hub for the spread of the virus in the State. The district has a population of 47 lakh, of which 30 lakh live in GVMC limits. It has an international airport, two ports and houses a number of PSUs and important government organisation, which bring in a steady flow of visitors. But luckily, the spread was gradual and there was no sudden flare-up, observed District COVID-19 Special Officer and Principal of Andhra Medical College P.V. Sudhakar.

The main challenge was improving the existing health infrastructure, which was not ready to handle the pandemic.

From just one case in March, there was a peak of 40,000 cases in July and August. By the end of the year, there were over 59,600 cases and 522 deaths.

Within a short time, the district administration readied close to 7,000 beds with 3,000 beds connected to oxygen supply and 500 to ventilators, in around 22 Category-A and 20 Category-B hospitals. It also brought in close to 5,000 beds in COVID Care Centres.

The high point was readying the CSR Block at King George Hospital (KGH) with 500 beds in just 42 days, said Prof. Sudhakar. The challenging was fighting the pandemic while losing boots on the ground at the same time.

Around 20 medical professionals, including doctors and nurses, succumbed to the virus from the health department alone. Over 700 were infected in the police department and over 30% of the staff contracted the virus from the GVMC and district administration.


Probably for the first time, team work and convergence of departments was at its best. This aspect received plaudits from the British Medical Journal (BMJ), which appreciated the district administration for managing the pandemic through ‘convergence in an urban setting’.

“We constituted 22 committees such as an isolation committee, cluster containment committee and testing committee, and each committee comprised experts and men from various fields and their task were clearly cut out. This saw the convergence of departments and it worked well,” said Collector V. Vinay Chand.

On the bright side, KGH was selected for trials of COVISHIELD vaccine that has been developed by Oxford University, with Serum India Limited and ICMR as partners and the drug 2-Deoxy D-Glucose, a drug developed by DRDO.

Styrene leak

At a time when the pandemic was raging, the city was hit by the styrene monomer leak from the LG Polymers plant on May 7, in which 12 persons lost their lives and over 500 were hospitalised. The incident received global attention and sent shockwaves across the city.

For people across the departments and for the general public – 2020 was a year to forget.

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Printable version | Jun 19, 2021 12:19:40 AM |

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