60,000 Cases In 7 Days! Decoding Andhra Pradesh’s COVID-19 Spike
Andhra Pradesh reported more than 1 lakh COVID-19 cases in July.
Let these numbers sink in. On 1 July, Andhra Pradesh had 15,252 confirmed COVID-19 cases. Almost a month later, on 30 July, this number has shot up to 1,30,557 cases. Of these, 57,846 cases were reported in just the last seven days.
The COVID story of Andhra Pradesh is similar to south Indian states like Karnataka and Kerala. These states were considered ‘role models’ when other major states were severely affected by the virus. However, when the lockdown was lifted, cases in these states spiked.
In the case of Andhra Pradesh, the spike can be attributed to a political decision. The government has decided that instead of putting preventive measures like strict lockdowns in place, it would shift its focus to identifying more cases and treating them.
Quoting Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy, officials in Andhra Pradesh describe the strategy as ‘dealing with the virus’.
So, here is a breakdown of how and why COVID-19 cases increased in Andhra Pradesh and how the government’s ‘dealing with the virus’ policy functions.
'Decentralised' Infections, No Single Hub
Before understanding the reasons behind the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, let's look at how Andhra Pradesh’s COVID-19 situation is different from other states. In several big states, the city capitals or major cities emerged as hubs of the infection. In the case of Andhra Pradesh, however, cases are spread across all districts.
Out of the 13 districts in the state, at least seven have reported more than 9,000 COVID-19 cases. In neighbouring Karnataka, close to 50 percent of the cases are reported in Bengaluru city alone.
A decentralised state economy, where no city is driving the state’s growth, is the reason for this trend. This poses a challenge for the state administration. It needs to ensure that its health care resources are uniformly available across the state.
Jagan Reddy's 'Deal With the Virus' Strategy
Now to the reasons behind the spike.
The Andhra Pradesh government has taken a call to deal with the virus spread rather than imposing prolonged lockdowns that could stop, or slow, the spread. S Rajiv Krishna, advisor to the Andhra Pradesh government told The Quint that this call was taken considering the socio-economic situation in the state.
“The Chief Minister has made it clear that we have to learn to deal with the virus rather imposing lockdowns. The effects of an intense lockdown are more detrimental than tackling virus using our healthcare system.”S Rajiv Krishna, advisor to the Andhra Pradesh government.
He said that controlling the virus using lockdowns is not an option for the government. “We don’t have a system like New Zealand where they can effectively lockdown for a few months, take care of the virus and open up again. Considering the socio-economic situation in the state, especially the situation of those in the lower economic groups, it is not viable for us to impose lockdowns and restrictions,” Krishan pointed out.
Andhra Pradesh, for the last one month, has lifted all restrictions on inter-state and intra-state travel, and commercial activity in the state is moving towards ‘normalcy’. The increase in COVID-19 cases has also happened during this time.
Test, And Test More
The Andhra Pradesh government’s plan to ‘deal with the virus’ includes testing more people and creating more hospital beds. Among the large states in the country, Andhra Pradesh has the highest number of tests conducted per million population – 36,193 tests, as of 30 July. The government claims that on an average, more than 30,000 tests are conducted daily.
The high testing rate, coupled with the opening of the borders has resulted in the high number of reported cases, the government claims. Andhra Pradesh officials added that their testing has been very targeted, which also results in more cases coming to light.
The government argues that it is aware that removing the restrictions on commerce and movement results in more cases, but they are prepared to handle this situation. “As of this week, we have more than 30,000 beds with oxygen supply. We have around 55 COVID hospitals, and we have identified 75 more, which on a day’s notice can be operationalised. So, while we have opened up our borders, we have increased the tests and have kept the healthcare system needed to tackle it,” said Krishna.
He also pointed out that the state’s mortality rate is only one percent, while the country’s average is more than 2.2 percent.
Contact Tracing in Shambles?
The Quint spoke with officials in the Department of Health, Medical and Family Welfare to understand the government policy in depth. Many of them, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that while the government is conducting more tests and has arranged for enough beds to treat people, the system of contact tracing has a taken a back seat.
According to them, more than prevention, like identifying hotspots, the focus is on treating as many cases as possible
“The number of cases where we haven’t been able to track the source is increasing. It is true that we are in community transmission phase because of ineffective contact tracing,” an official said.
‘Herd Immunity not a Perfect Strategy’
K Sujatha Rao, former secretary in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, said that the recent developments show that the Andhra Pradesh government is working towards herd immunity.
“They are working on a strategy that the number of infections doesn’t matter as long as they can keep mortality low. But the fact is that you can’t have a low mortality rate when the number of infections aren’t in control,” she said.
She added that as the number of cases increases, the pressure on the healthcare system increases. This will result in more deaths. She also added that the government should not take the attention away from COVID-19, keeping herd immunity in mind, towards economic targets.
But for now, Andhra Pradesh government has made peace with the increasing number of cases in state and believes it should focus on providing the best treatment to patients, keeping the fatality rate low, and keeping the state economy afloat.
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