Three years after COVID-19 hit Karnataka on March 8, 2020, the focus is now on preparedness for future pandemics. The State is working on setting up a Health Emergency Operation Centre (HEOC) at Arogya Soudha.
Karnataka’s COVID-19 Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) had, in December last year, recommended that the State should establish a Centre for Pandemic Preparedness (CPP) to help predict and prevent future outbreaks through stringent surveillance.
Command and control
To be funded by the Union Health Ministry, the HEOC will be a command and control facility where designated emergency management functions will be performed. “We have submitted a proposal to the Union Ministry in this regard and have also appointed a nodal officer for the Centre,” State Health Commissioner Randeep D. told The Hindu.
In the last three years, as many as 40,269 people have lost their lives while over 40.74 lakh people have been infected by the different variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Over 46% of the total caseload and over 42% of the total fatalities are from Bengaluru Urban. The country’s first death was reported from Kalaburagi on March 12.
While hospitals saw an acute shortage of testing and diagnosis infrastructure through the first wave (March-October 2020), the second wave (December 2020-November 2021), largely driven by Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, caught the health authorities unawares. The State’s health infrastructure was overwhelmed as the rise in caseload resulted in huge demand for hospital beds. Several patients died at home due to the non-availability of ICU beds and timely care. With many healthcare staff getting infected, lack of manpower also became a major issue.
However, the Omicron-driven third wave (January-March 2022 onwards) was milder. Although the surge in cases was huge, the severity was low and the demand for hospital beds and oxygen was negligible. The situation was under control as a major chunk of the population had been vaccinated with at least one dose by then.
Subsequently, in July-August 2022, there was a small spike but the situation was not serious as case numbers only fluctuated and have been at a low ebb since then. However, from March 1, 2023, onwards hospitalisations are gradually increasing in Bengaluru. From 12 hospitalisations on March 1, the number has gone up to 31 on Tuesday.
Karnataka started its combat against the pandemic by converting the government-run Victoria Hospital into a dedicated COVID facility. Subsequently, almost all secondary and tertiary care public health facilities were turned into COVID hospitals. However, when government hospitals were unable to cater to the increasing caseload, the Health Department roped in private hospitals, most of whom were reluctant to turn into dedicated facilities initially.
A centralised bed-allotment system was worked out only after patients lost their lives waiting for beds. After the third wave subsided, all health facilities resumed full-fledged non-COVID services.