With a second wave of COVID-19 appearing to set in, Karnataka’s surging Test Positivity Rate (TPR), especially in eight districts, including Kalaburagi, Bidar, and Bengaluru Urban, has become a cause for concern. COVID-19 experts said the coming two weeks would be extremely crucial for Karnataka and unless drastic measures were initiated to cut transmission, the State might go the Maharashtra way.
At 2.1%, the TPR in the week prior to March 18 was the highest in Kalaburagi and Bidar, followed by Mysuru (1.9%), Dakshina Kannada (1.8%), Tumakuru (1.7%), Bengaluru Urban and Bengaluru Rural (1.4% each), and Udupi (1.3%). These eight districts have a TPR higher than the State average that stands at 1.2%. TPR in the last seven days was the lowest in Haveri and Davangere at 0.1%.
The surging TPR in Kalaburagi, Bidar, and Bengaluru Urban had also come up for discussion during the Prime Minister’s meeting with the Chief Ministers of various States. Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa had said that a separate surveillance strategy would be chalked out for these three districts.
Why cases are rising
Giridhara R. Babu, member of the State’s COVID-19 Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), who is also the head of Lifecourse Epidemiology at the Indian Institute of Public Health in Bengaluru, said the districts were seeing a surge mostly as a result of pooling of susceptible persons due to inward migration.
Pointing out that those who were uninfected earlier, protected at home, might be at risk, Dr. Babu said, as the complete resumption of activities had resulted in the virus spreading through asymptomatic persons. “This is possible through children attending schools and young adults visiting offices or colleges. These districts need to be on high alert to ensure the transmission is not wide,” he said.
“Containment measures should include enhanced testing using a syndromic approach and efficient contact tracing. Also, the vaccination of the vulnerable should be completed swiftly,” he asserted.
Need for restrictions
Sources in the TAC told The Hindu on Saturday that following BBMP Commissioner N. Manjunath Prasad’s proposal regarding initiating stringent measures, including 50% seating capacity in cinemas, the TAC had an emergency meeting on Friday night.
“We have seconded the BBMP Commissioner’s proposal and have again sent a five-page letter with several recommendations to the government. The situation is likely to worsen if the spread is not controlled now and there is an urgent need to introduce drastic measures,” said a TAC member.
Apart from limiting seating in cinema theatres to 50%, it is learnt that the TAC has recommended closure of all religious institutions and educational institutions (except for classes that have exams going on) for the next two weeks. Besides, gyms and parks should also be closed, the TAC has said in its list of recommendations.
‘Ban public functions’
V. Ravi, TAC member and nodal officer for genomic confirmation of SARS-CoV-2 in the State, said people should completely avoid going to crowded places now. “Unlike last year, the spread is through clusters now and we should ensure that more clusters do not build up,” he said.
“Lockdown is not the solution now. In my opinion, we should completely ban all public functions, especially in closed spaces. I also believe it may be worthwhile to close religious institutions and all schools and educational institutions where there are no exams going on for at least two week, besides allowing only 50% seating in theatres. If these stringent precautions are not taken now, we may go the Maharashtra way soon,” Dr. Ravi said.
C.N. Manjunath, nodal officer for labs and testing in the State’s COVID-19 task force, said that apart from aggressive testing and contact tracing, focus should also be on hospital preparedness, in the same way it was during the July-August period without compromising on the treatment of non-COVID-19 patients. Restricting inter-State movement, particularly from high-risk States, without compromising on commercial activities should also be the priority now.