Bengaluru's 2nd Wave: Govt Needs to Tackle Laxity, Stem the Surge
Despite the surge, the ground level reality in terms of preparedness and response is missing, says Dr Babu.
In 2020, when the coronavirus cases were surging in Bengaluru, there was a change in guard in the agencies responsible for mounting a response, that brought in several innovative and reformist public health measures.
One of these measures included ramping up the testing capacity in the state from less than 10,000, to nearly 50,000 tests per day.
In addition, several departments were roped in for contact tracing.
They played an important role in mobilising other human resources to ensure that most COVID-affected and COVID-suspected people could be traced.
As a result of this, the state of Karnataka, and Bengaluru in particular had the highest contacts traced per case. If not the highest, it was among the states which had higher case-to-contacts ratio as per the ICM paper.
However, once the lockdown was lifted almost every sector opened up completely. Along with this people seem to have forgotten that COVID-19 impacted everyone’s life adversely for over 10 months.
As a result of this, cinema halls have opened up 100%, all the close spaces including offices, restaurants, pubs are running to their full capacity. Political rallies and union strikes are taking place in the capital city of Bengaluru with tens of thousands of people being mobilised.
All this has resulted in a large cluster of unaffected people gathering in tight spaces.
Laxity, Change of Guard, and Abandoning of COVID-Appropriate Behaviours
In 2021, when it is evident that the second wave is just starting in Bengaluru, there seems to be a completely different approach for managing the situation.
Several sectors are seeking exemptions from the COVID-appropriate behaviours.
Sighting one sector getting some concession, other sectors are also seeking similar ones. As a result, most of the close spaces continue to function to full capacity and wearing a mask in these settings is almost impractical and rarely monitored.
There has also been change in the leadership that's managing the COVID response in the state.
Challenges Before the City
There are several challenges affecting the city right now.
First, there is no clear plan in terms of how beds will be allocated if there is a surge in cases.
Second, the surge in cases seems to be only in imagination of some of the public health experts, but the ground level reality in terms of preparedness and response seems to be as if COVID-19 is already over.
What is needed is a clear communication plan, that first acknowledges there is a second COVID wave, and gives our clear, precise instructions to follow.
What should a lay man expect? What kind of behaviour modifications should he/she prepare for? How soon should these measures be implemented? These questions need clear communication.
Along with this, a shared understanding with the private hospitals in terms of what are the requirements for beds, and then how the graded response for allocation of beds should be carried out as cases surge, is absolutely essential to prevent deaths, and also to reduce severity of infections.
At the same time, increasing the pace of vaccination is very important in the age group 45 years and above. In order to do that, strong micro-plan linking them to nearer hospitals, mobilisation of people to get them to the vaccination centers at their convenience, and monitoring and mentoring of this entire process, has to be done in a decentralised manner.
Time to Implement the Learnings from the 1st Wave
Right now, we have an opportunity to intervene and prevent the likely upsurge and we have the opportunity to prevent many deaths.
We do not have any excuse this time. We have better treatment protocols, we have a vaccine as an additional weapon, and also, we have a plethora of experts available for advice.
However, the ball is in the court of BBMP once again, in terms of how it will steer the COVID-19 crisis, and prevent any major adverse consequences.
(Dr Giridhar R Babu is a Professor of life course epidemiology with Public Health Foundation of India, Bengaluru. He tweets @epigiri.
This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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