Coronavirus cases in India near 1mn driven by spike in rural areas
July 16 2020 06:55 PM
Police personnel stop motorists on a street after a new lockdown was imposed as a preventive measure
Police personnel stop motorists on a street after a new lockdown was imposed as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Siliguri

Reuters/Mumbai

The number of coronavirus cases in the country neared 1mn on Thursday as infection numbers rose in the countryside, pushing authorities to reinstate lockdowns across several states.

The country reported a record 32,696 new cases of the Covid-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus, bringing the total to 968,876 with 24,915 deaths, according to data from the federal health ministry.

While major cities such as Delhi and Mumbai were among the initial hotspots of the virus, newer cases are emerging in rural areas where healthcare infrastructure is much weaker.

A fresh lockdown was imposed on Thursday in Bihar, where cases have been rising after thousands of migrant workers returned from cities following a strict lockdown to contain the virus spread.

"While the world’s attention has been focused on the unfolding crisis in the United States and South America, a concurrent human tragedy is fast emerging in South Asia," John Fleming, the Asia Pacific head of health at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said in a statement.

"We now need to urgently turn our attention to this region," Fleming said, citing dire forecasts that predict thousands of more cases in India in the coming months.

Authorities, however, have touted their efforts to contain the virus."Despite being such a largely populated nation, we can perhaps claim to have performed better than any other country," Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Thursday citing a fatality rate of 2.57% and recovery rate of 63.25%.

Bihar went into a 15-day lockdown at midnight on Thursday, a day after IT hub Bangalore -- home to 13mn people -- shut down for a week.

All schools, clubs and non-essential businesses were ordered to close in Bihar, but construction and agricultural activity are allowed to continue.

And while public transport was shut down, private vehicles are still permitted to operate, and the streets of the capital Patna thronged with cars, lorries, bikes and auto-rickshaws.

"The lockdown is not being fully enforced," businessman Ranjeet Singh said. Many people were still shopping for food with little regard for social distancing advice.

A lack of coronavirus discipline forced Goa to announced a three-day shutdown from Thursday evening and a night curfew until August 10.

Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said too many people were "stepping out to meet people at parties" and that there was a low level of "awareness and sensitivity".

"We have more than 40,000 people fined for not wearing masks, plus there are many who are detained for flouting rules, but they continue to loiter," Sawant told local media.

"This only establishes that people only understand the language of the law."

Meanwhile, the Congress party on Thursday sought President's rule in Karnataka, as it said the ruling BJP government had failed to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, with cases surging daily since July 1.

"It's time the BJP government resigns and allows President's rule in the state, as it is has failed miserably to control the Covid cases, which have been surging daily," party's state unit president D K Shivakumar told reporters here.

"Why do we need a government, which cannot tackle the pandemic?" Shivakumar asked.

"The BJP came to power nearly a year ago after engineering defections from the Congress and Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) and defeating our 14-month-old coalition government in the assembly on July 23, 2019. As it came to power by foul means, its Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa should resign and let governor Vajubhai Vala run the state to contain the virus spread," asserted Shivakumar.

Refuting the opposition Congress charge that the cases were rising in the state due to negligence by ministers, officials and legislators, Health Minister Sriramulu said Karnataka had been performing better than other states till the cases began to steadily rise since the unlock began and the people were moving in violation of the guidelines.

Several private hospitals in the city are facing acute shortage of doctors, nurses, ward boys and helpers amid the raging Covid-19 pandemic, an official said on Thursday.

"There is actually acute shortage of manpower in Bengaluru hospitals, especially nurses, ward boys and helpers. Even before Covid, we had a little shortage but after Covid they all left in droves," Karnataka chapter Indian Medical Association (IMA) official Ravindra said.

He estimated a shortage of 6,000 doctors and about 12,000-18,000 nurses and ward boys.

Ravindra said a major reason for the shortage is the fear of the staff of contracting the virus as they discharge their duties in hospitals.

"Some of them cannot work because they are pregnant or above 55, diabetic or have other health problems. Some of them are not coming to work although they did not leave the job," he said.

Besides the scare of getting infected, the IMA official said some of the health workers themselves are already Covid positive, quarantined or admitted in hospitals.

In case of support staff, he said most of them are migrant workers from Gulbarga and other districts who panicked after seeing some videos of Covid victims being dumped and buried.

"They said if I have to die, I don't want to die in Bengaluru. I will die and get buried in my native place. After those videos went viral, quite a few have left," explained Ravindra, deciphering the social media impact as well.

Similarly, the virus has also sent the doctors and health workers' duty schedules haywire, prohibiting them from working continuously.

"Duty schedules are also changing. As per government guidelines, they cannot work continuously. So if they work for two weeks and even if they are alright, one week they have to be compulsorily on leave.

"Because of this, we are facing a huge shortage of manpower, especially nurses and ward boys," said Ravindra, who is also a doctor.

Amid the spike in infections everyday, the state health department has created a new duty roster for healthcare workers to ensure continuous availability of services in Covid Care Centres (CCCs.)

Accordingly, all doctors, nursing staff, paramedics and other support staff working in CCCs will have 10 days duty at a stretch, followed by four holidays.





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