Rajat Sharma

How Covid pandemic is spreading from metros to villages

akb full_frame_74900First, the good news. The second wave of Covid-19 pandemic is showing hopeful signs of decline, with the daily count of fresh cases below 3.5 lakh (3,48,371) for the second consecutive day. Active Covid-19 cases have also dipped for the third consecutive day, for the first time since March. Active cases dipped by 4,000 to settle at 3.7 lakhs, but the number of Covid-related deaths jumped to 4,205 on Tuesday, the highest single day toll recorded till now. As of Tuesday, the cumulative death toll across India has crossed 2.5 lakh since the beginning of the pandemic.
Sceptics may say that the number of tests may have declined, or there could be delay in release of RT-PCR reports. Bur facts prove otherwise. The number of tests being carried out is between the range of 15 to 18 lakhs daily, and it has not declined. There are definite signs of the pandemic plateauing in 18 states of India, according to Health Ministry. These include Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana and Uttarakhand apart from Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Delhi, which were rocked for the last two months due to the pandemic. Yet, 26 states still have over 15 per cent positivity.
With Karnataka reporting a huge daily spike in cases, Bengaluru has left Pune behind to become the Covid-19 capital. Mumbai, Nagpur, Pune were the early hot spots which used to report more than 10,000 fresh cases daily, but the numbers have now declined. Only 1,717 cases were reported yesterday from Mumbai, 2,2434 cases from Nagpur, while positivity rate in Pune has declined from 42 per cent to 23 per cent. The Health Ministry on Tuesday admitted that the Mumbai and Pune models were shining examples, which should be followed by other cities. Night curfew, lockdown, travel restrictions have played a major part in bringing a decline in the number of cases.
What was the Mumbai model? A city with 2 crore population was India’s Covid epicentre till last month. Unlike Delhi, people in Mumbai did not have to go out to hunt for hospital beds and oxygen cylinders. The entire city was divided into 24 wards having their own control rooms. Doctors, medical staff and ambulance were kept ready at each control room. Hundreds of SUVs were converted into ambulances. Control room of every ward had details about patients, including their RT-PCR reports. The doctors used to be in touch with the patients on phone consistently. Patients who required oxygen or hospital beds were helped by the control room. There was no hue and cry about ICU beds in Mumbai hospitals. This is an ideal case of perfect planning.
Now, there are signs of the pandemic spreading to rural areas. There are 13 states where the number of Covid cases is more in rural areas compared to cities. These include Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Jharkhand and Arunachal Pradesh. There are fears that more Covid cases may go unreported now from far off villages. The rural share in daily cases is rising in 11 states including Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Gujarat and in the north eastern states of Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura.
In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Tuesday night, we showed how a quack was treating Covid infected villagers under trees in and in an open field in Vidisha district of Madhya Pradesh. The quack was treating villagers by giving them anti-fever tablets and multivitamin capsules. He was also giving them saline drips. Local villagers said, they were helpless because they were unable to visit nearby primary health centres or district hospitals. The quack’s father had a registered medical practitioner degree, and the son learnt the ropes of the trade through experience.
In contrast, in Ratlam district hospital of MP, Covid patients were lying in corridors because of lack of beds. They were left to their own fate because of less number of doctors and healthcare staff.
The pandemic has spread to Unnao, Kanpur, Barabanki, Agra and other districts of UP, apart from the vast hinterland in eastern Uttar Pradesh. In one village of Agra district, 14 Covid patients died in the last 20 days. Panic spread among the villagers when people started dying. Medical team was rushed to Kurgawan village, where door-to-door tests were carried out, and 22 villagers were found Covid positive. Some villagers told the team that negligence on part of those infected was the reason behind the spread of the virus.
A similar situation prevails in neighbouring Rajasthan. India TV reporter visited Joda village of Dausa, where villagers have locked themselves indoors out of fear of the pandemic. Several villagers have set up thatched huts in the midst of fields, to avoid infection. More than 60 people have died in the village in the last 10 days. Most of the villagers have symptoms of fever, bodyache, cough and cold, but they are yet to undergo tests.
The pandemic hazards are more in rural areas because most of them lack basic health infrastructure. 80 to 85 crore people live in more than 6 lakh villages across India, where health facility is a rarity. The state governments must carry out massive rapid antigen tests in villages and isolate those who are tested positive, in order to arrest the spread of the pandemic. If the virus spreads extensively in rural areas, it will be a very difficult job for the governments to contain.

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