Hit hard by the pandemic, situation in Bengaluru is grim. Hospitals are witnessing queues of patients and ambulances; oxygen cylinders are in demand; and occupancy of ICU beds is reaching its peak. Earlier individuals were getting infected with the Covid-19 virus. Now entire families are falling victims. Yet the medical advice is: Better isolate and quarantine yourself in homes rather than going in search of beds in hospitals.
The State Administration on Tuesday (April 20) decided to impose weekend curfew beginning from 9 pm on Friday till 6 am on Monday. This is in addition to daily night curfew (from 10 pm to 6 am) which was introduced two weeks ago. The educational institutions, gyms, bars, theatres and malls have been asked to down the shutters during the designated weekend curfew hours. However, grocery shops, pharmacy and other essential services will continue to operate. Marriage ceremonies can be held with attendance of 50 persons while only 20 individuals can participate in funeral services. Government offices will function with only 50 per cent of the staff attending them. The Education Dept announced on Tuesday that no exams will be held from class 1 to class nine and all students would be promoted to next classes this year. However, the SSLC exam will be held (as scheduled earlier) from June 21 till July 5. (Normally the State SSLC Board exams were held from last Monday of March till April 10 every year.)
On Wednesday (April 21) the cases of infection hit the record peak of over 23,500 and crematoria and burial grounds were issuing coupons for those waiting their turn to perform the last rites. As of Sunday (April 18), 94 per cent of the ICU beds—323 out of 341—were filled, according to the data provided by the Health Department. Of the total 6,102 beds reserved for Covid-19 patients in hospitals in the city, 4,475 were occupied which translated to 73 per cent. Ninety six per cent of the ICU beds with ventilators and 83 per cent of the High Dependency Unit beds in the city were occupied while the percentage of general beds occupied was 79 per cent. In view of high caseload, the Government had instructed all hospitals to reserve 50 per cent beds for COVID-19 patients. The Government advisory had instructed not to admit asymptomatic COVID-19 patients and even those with mild symptoms. At least five private hospitals, namely Vikram, Fortis, Columbia Asia, Aster CMI and Baptist Hospital, were issued notices to show why 50 per cent beds were not reserved for COVID patients. The violation was reported following surprise inspection by Heath Department teams. The Government is even mooting creation of 60-bed Covid Care Centre in a Veterinary Hospital.
On another front, the hospitals are engaged in a losing battle against oxygen supplying agencies which are unable to meet the demand. Hospitals that were using five to ten cylinders a day now require between 25 to 50. Burdened with huge number of patients gasping for breath, mostly small and medium hospitals are affected while the larger ones, mainly those run by the corporate, have their own oxygen producing plants. The Health Dept has requested 7,500 jumbo cylinders from the Centre. The Industries Minister Jagadish Shettar on Tuesday asked the Highway Authorities not to disrupt movement of oxygen tankers. Surprisingly, the Government maintains that the State has 812 metric ton oxygen production capacity a day and it uses only 273 metric tons, yet it is not able to explain why oxygen cylinders are not available to hospitals.
Meanwhile, an all-party meet held under the chairmanship of Governor Vajubhai Vala to assess the situation created by the second wave of Covid has drawn sharp criticism from the Opposition parties and the media. Deccan Herald in its editorial on Wednesday termed it ‘an affront to the federal system where elected Chief Minister is the executive head of the State’. It said: “In a federal structure, the states cannot function as vassals of the Centre. Governors are a relic of the British past and many of them have downgraded themselves to mere agents of the Centre with utter disregard to constitutional provisions, conventions, precedents and even court verdicts”.
M A Siraj is Bengaluru based seasoned journalist who writes for a variety of newspapers including The Hindu, and news portals.