Coronavirus | 42-year-old Pune journalist succumbs to COVID-19

Pandurang Raikar.  

A 42-year-old reporter with a vernacular news channel became the first journalist in Pune district to succumb to COVID-19 on Wednesday.

Pandurang Raikar, a senior reporter with the TV9 news channel, passed away at around 5.30 a.m. on Wednesday at a private hospital here after his oxygen levels plummeted drastically.

Close kin of the deceased journalist and other sources have alleged that Mr. Raikar could not secure a ventilator bed at the recently operational 800-bed facility at the College of Engineering grounds. While a critical care bed was finally made available at the city’s Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, the Raikar family could not get a cardiac ambulance to take him there on time.

Terming the journalist’s death as “extremely unfortunate”, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and State Health Minister Rajesh Tope have ordered a probe into the incident.

“It is extremely unfortunate that a person has to lose his life because of lack of ventilator beds or ambulances. We will probe into this affair. But to avoid such incidents, we have already given strict instructions to Collectors and Commissioners to buy or hire ambulances at any cost,” said Mr. Tope, speaking in Mumbai.

He also said that in a number of cases, it had been observed that some rich and influential people were occupying ICU beds in hospitals and other facilities despite themselves being asymptomatic.

A release issued by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) later on Wednesday evening said that Mr. Raikar had fever and cough on August 20 and had taken treatment from local doctors. He had also taken a COVID-19 test on August 27 which had returned negative.

“After this test, he left for his native village in Ahmednagar’s Kopargaon taluk. Later, when he started feeling unwell on August 29, he had taken a rapid antigen test on August 31 and was admitted to a local hospital at the behest of the Ahmednagar District Collector. However, his condition did not improve there and was brought to the CoEP center on August 31 where he was stabilized,” said the PMC release.

Pune civic authorities further said that after conducting all requisite tests, Mr. Raikar was kept on oxygen.

“The doctors at the facility decided to move Mr. Raikar to the ICU on August 1. However, his relatives, in the expectation of securing a bed in a private hospital [Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital] decided to shift the patient there. However, in securing the requisite cardiac ambulance necessary to transport him led to delay in normal treatment as per Covid-19 regulations in this time. The patient’s condition suddenly worsened at 4:30 a.m. and his oxygen levels dipped sharply to 50-55 within a few minutes…he passed away an hour later following cardio-respiratory failure,” said the PMC statement.

The Pune civic administration authorities further said that higher officials at the Sassoon General Hospital would determine whether there was any lapse in protocol during Mr. Raikar’s treatment at the COVID-19 facility.

Mr. Raikar’s kin have also alleged that a private hospital in Ahmednagar had delayed admitting him unless the journalist made an advance payment of ₹40,000. Even after admitting him, they claim that Mr. Raikar was not given “stabilizing treatment” which forced the family to rush him to the large Pune facility for treatment.

The journalist’s untimely death has drawn the ire of Opposition parties and well as political outfits and social activists, all of whom held the State government as well as the Pune administration’s medical infrastructure responsible for the unfortunate fatality.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said that Mr. Raikar’s death was “very distressing”.

“This is a very serious situation…young journalists in their early 40s are succumbing to the virus for lack of timely critical care. I will speak to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on this matter,” said Mr. Fadnavis.

Senior BJP leader Kirit Somaiya demanded that Mr. Tope should immediately resign, and said that the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government ought to seriously get down to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic by addressing the shortage of critical care centres, ambulances and medicines.

The BJP’s Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council Pravin Darekar questioned what was the point of building large facilities in Pune if they were not being used.

Terming Mr. Raikar’s untimely death as “shocking”, noted Right to Information (RTI) activist Vijay Kumbhar blamed the Pune administration’s ineptness which resulted in the journalist not being able to avail of critical care treatment on time.

“What is the point of spending crores to build this jumbo facility when not a single critical care bed was available to Mr. Raikar at his critical hour? While the government claims to have purchased 975 cardiac ambulances, why was not a single one available to the journalist when he needed it the most?” Mr. Kumbhar said, adding that Mr. Raikar was known to be a conscientious and sensitive journalist.

A senior television reporter said that Mr. Raikar’s death underscored the risks that reporters from television channels were exposed to at the time of the pandemic.

“Television reporters cannot work-from-home in the sense that print or new media reporters can do. They have to report from high-risk zones like hospitals and COVID-19 care centres, talking to relatives, doctors, health workers and politicians, which makes them extremely vulnerable,” he said.

Stating that Mr. Raikar was “a courageous reporter” who helped bring to light deficiencies in the city’s medical infrastructure and the plight of the kin of COVID-19 victims, Anjum Inamdar, founder of the Mulnivasi Muslim Manch, said the State government must compensate journalists afflicted by the pandemic as they too were frontline warriors.

Mr. Raikar leaves behind his parents, his wife and two small children. His last rites were performed later in the day.

Pune district is among the worst-hit in the country, with more than 1.8 lakh reported cases of whom nearly 34,000 are active ones. The district has recorded more than 4,000 COVID-19 related deaths till date.

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2020 2:27:42 AM |

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