Karnataka unprepared despite COVID-19 second wave warning in November: Experts

A health worker collecting swab samples at Kempe Gowda Bus Stand in Bengaluru on Monday.   | Photo Credit: K. MURALI KUMAR

Although experts had warned of the onset of a second wave of COVID-19 in Karnataka in November 2020 itself, the State did little to keep its health infrastructure prepared. As a result, there has been a rapid surge and the situation has gone out of control, say a few experts.

The State’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) had, on November 30 last year, submitted a report to the government recommending that the State should, by January first week, keep ready the clinical facilities at an October 2020 level in terms of beds, ICUs, ICU-ventilators, oxygen availability, vital drugs, and other infrastructure, both in government and private hospitals, including ambulance services.

“Or this should be ramped up on a short notice of 2-3 days maximum. An early recognition of second wave in the State can be done by closely monitoring the seven-day average growth rate and reproduction number at the district and State levels. The second wave of COVID-19 is expected during January-February 2021,” the report had stated.

More importantly, the TAC had recommended the restriction of mass gatherings such as fairs and festivals, religious congregations, and cultural events. “Super-spreader events during December and January should be strictly restricted and events such as weddings and other social gathering should be permitted only in open areas and with an audience of not more than 100 persons. A maximum of 200 persons should be allowed at all political and public events, 50 at death ceremonies, and 20 at funerals,” the report had stated.

However, the State government, which had initially announced (and subsequently rolled back) certain restrictions including night curfew during the New Year week, did not consider the report seriously. “Restrictions for cinema halls have been repeatedly rolled back. If the report was taken seriously then or even in March this year and stringent measures initiated early, the situation could have been controlled,” said V. Ravi, TAC member and nodal officer for genomic confirmation of SARS-CoV-2 in Karnataka.

Another expert pointed out that declaring elections was the biggest blunder. “Elections could have been postponed considering the pandemic as a national medical emergency. However, the State followed a wait-and-watch policy and we are seeing the consequences now,” the expert asserted.

‘People at fault’

C.N. Manjunath, nodal officer of labs and testing in the State’s COVID-19 task force, said people were yet to realise the gravity of the situation. “People are going out of Bengaluru to their native places even if there is a day’s holiday. They have been participating in temple fairs, village festivals, and weddings relentlessly. If people had taken precautions and if all these were banned much earlier, we could have cut the transmission to some extent,” he said.

“We now have to further reinforce our healthcare systems by providing more manpower because our health professionals are facing fatigue syndrome. They are unable to handle the pressure with cases being reported in the thousands every day,” he said.

TAC member Giridhar R. Babu, who heads Lifecourse Epidemiology at the Public Health Foundation of India in Bengaluru, tweeted, “The onset of the second wave was warned by experts in Karnataka on November 30, 2020. We missed the timing and the quantum is higher than expected. Government had all the time to review and prepare.”

“We did not land in this situation overnight. It will not be over without devastating losses. Actions are needed now, late but still useful to save more lives. Wait and watch is not a public health strategy,” he said in another tweet.

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Printable version | May 12, 2021 8:01:36 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/karnataka-unprepared-despite-covid-19-second-wave-warning-in-november-experts/article34362096.ece

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