At 8 pm on Tuesday, 14 July, Bengaluru entered another round of complete lockdown. The lockdown is a result of Bengaluru reporting 61 percent of all active COVID-19 cases in Karnataka, with the tally of active cases at 17,051 compared to the state's count of 27,853 as on Monday.
Until May, Bengaluru had fewer COVID-19 cases when compared to other major metro cities. One of the reasons for the initial success was how the government had taken advice from health care experts.
However, when deciding on the parameters of the new lockdown, this lesson seems to have been ignored.
Several members of the expert committee said the government decided to impose a one-week lockdown, against their recommendation of a three-week one. According to them, unless implemented for three weeks, the lockdown will have little effect.
So why did experts suggest a three-week lockdown?
One Week Won't Cut COVID-19 Incubation Cycles
The primary aim of the lockdown is to cut down the incubation cycles. The incubation period for COVID-19 is the time between a person is exposed to the virus and the onset of symptoms. According to WHO this could be up to 14 days.
Dr V Ravi, senior professor and head of Neurovirology at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, who is part of the COVID-19 expert committee, said one of the reasons for a fewer number of COVID-19 cases until the end of May was a strictly implemented lockdown in Bengaluru.
He said that to bring the situation under control at least six weeks of lockdown is required. Taking the example of the lockdowns one to four, he said that at least three incubation cycles of the COVID-19 virus were cut off during this time.
“If the government can’t do six weeks, scientifically speaking, at least three weeks are required; otherwise it is meaningless,” he said.
Not Enough Time To Restore Tracking System
As of 13 July, the number of COVID-19 cases where the source of the virus was known was a mere 29.92 percent. Even among these, in 14.40 percent cases, the source is categorised as influenza-like illness (ILI) and severe acute respiratory infections (SARI), which is merely a technicality, because the source of the virus in ILI and SARI cases are also unknown.
This means, in reality, the government doesn’t know the source of the virus in 84.48 percent cases.
Thus, clearing the large backlog in contact tracing and testing becomes crucial. Closure of two labs in June had resulted in a backlog in testing, which is estimated to be around 14,000. The city also has fewer diagnostic technicians than are required, resulting in further delays in testing. These delays lead to a lag in isolating positive patients before they could spread the virus.
The government is currently addressing the problem. This includes door-to-door surveys, isolating people with ILI, SARI, and fast-tracking contact tracing. However, one week is not enough for this process to regain its original momentum and efficiency, the experts argue.
Getting Facilities in Place
While the steps mentioned above are expected to give the health care system some control over the COVID-19 situation in the city, people getting infected is inevitable. This means the city administration will have to put systems in place for allocations of beds, oxygen facilities, Intensive Care Unit (ICU) facilities and ventilators.
To give an example, at Bengaluru's main COVID-19 designated facility, Victoria Hospital, all the 36 beds in the ICU have been full since the last week of June. Bowring Hospital, the alternative government facility, too, is facing a shortage of ICU beds.
Even though the government had asked private hospitals to provide beds for COVID-19 treatment, a 52-year-old man in the city suffering from breathlessness died after he was turned away from as many as 18 hospitals on 28 June. Similarly, a 55-year-old man died after he was unable to secure a hospital bed with an oxygen cylinder on 7 July.
The government is now developing an app which can provide details of bed availability in the city. But once again, one week is not enough time for this to happen and for a system to fall into place.
Dr Giridhar Babu, an epidemiologist and a member of the COVID-19 task force, said that it is ambitious on the government's part to think they could have these facilities in place in a matter of one week. "A lockdown is a grace period for the government to put systems in place, and one week is too less. And If these required facilities are not in place when the lockdown is lifted, the situation will not be any different," he said.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa said that there is no proposal before the state government to extend the one-week lockdown in Bengaluru. "People should not be anxious and should not heed rumours and should cooperate with the government. There is no proposal before the government to extend the lockdown beyond one week," he tweeted.