BENGALURU: Faced with criticism for not being adequately prepared for the second wave, Health Minister Dr K Sudhakar on Saturday pointed out that the double-mutant strain was responsible for the second wave, as it is more contagious.
While agreeing that stricter measures, as suggested by the TAC, could have been taken three weeks ago, he reasoned that the government was faced with the task of saving livelihoods at the same time.
With Covid patients struggling to get hospital beds, oxygen and drugs, the State Government is working on a war-footing to fight the pandemic. Health Minister Dr K Sudhakar told TNSE in an interview that the double-mutant strain in the second wave is spreading faster as it is more contagious. The government is taking all measures to ensure every Covid patient gets treatment. Medical infrastructure in the state, including testing labs, ventilators and ICUs, has been upgraded significantly in the last one year and it is being strengthened further, he said. Excerpts…
How different is the second wave compared to the first one? What are the major reasons for the surge?
The first wave initially spread slowly because of early stringent measures taken by the government, like complete lockdown, and strong vigilance by citizens. Then, people mostly followed Covid-appropriate behaviour like wearing masks and minimising social activities. But this time, people seem to have lowered their guard after the vaccine was found. They have also engaged themselves in economic activities. The double-mutant strain in the second wave is further contributing to the spread as it is more contagious.
Are we taken by surprise? The Technical Advisory Committee had warned of the second wave and you too kept cautioning against letting our guards down.
The TAC had advised us about the second wave and also suggested strict measures. But the government had a challenging task of striking a balance between saving lives and livelihoods. We took a calibrated approach, instead of a complete lockdown. I agree that if we had perhaps taken the measures that we took now about three weeks ago, we would have been in a better position.
We are witnessing the same problems we faced during the first wave, like shortage of beds. Why did we not make adequate preparation when we had time? What is being done to increase bed strength now?
Our medical infrastructure, be it testing labs, beds, ventilators or ICUs, has been stepped up significantly. Last year in February, we had only two labs for testing, we now have 192, with a capacity to test nearly 2.5 lakh to 3 lakh samples a day. Since March 2020, oxygenated beds have been increased from 1,970 to 23,884.
The supply of oxygen and Remdesivir seems to be a big challenge. What is being done to overcome the shortage?
The State Government has already placed an order for 70,000 vials of Remdesivir, and we have started receiving the consignments. The Centre had allocated additional 25,000 vials to Karnataka till April 30 which will be received later. We are trying to directly import two lakh vials in bulk. I have personally spoken to Biocon MD Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw for additional procurement.
Karnataka has been allocated six oxygen plants with 100 LPM (litres per minute) capacity each under the PM Cares Fund, which are being installed at government hospitals in Pavagada in Tumakuru district, Shikaripura in Shivamogga district, Mudhol in Bagalkot district, Yellapura in Uttara Kannada district, Chincholi in Kalaburagi district and Shorapur in Yadgir district.
All the plants have received the equipment and are expected to be operational by the month-end. The State Government is installing 40 plants, of which 10 are of 500 LPM capacity and 30 plants of 390 LPM capacity. A dedicated war room has been set up at the Drugs Controller office to streamline oxygen supply.
The installed capacity in the State is around 870 metric tonnes, while the estimate of requirement is 1,500 MT by May-end. Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa has already requested the Centre to allocate about 1,400 MT to Karnataka. We have directed industries to divert maximum amount of industrial oxygen for medical purposes.
Have we hit the peak or the numbers likely to go up further?
I don’t want to speculate on the peak, but experts estimate that we will have this second wave till May-end or June first week.
Many countries are facing or have gone through the third wave. Is it a concern here?
Yes, the third wave is a possibility. The vaccine is our biggest weapon to prevent it. We are administering the vaccines at around 6,000 sites and have also allowed workplaces to vaccinate. Since the vaccine is open to all above 18 years from May 1, we will accelerate the drive. I have already spoken to CII, FKCCI and requested them to actively participate in the drive to ensure that all their employees and their families are vaccinated. The chief minister has already approved the purchase of one crore doses of vaccine and earmarked Rs 400 crore for it.
Do you think the weekend curfew will help contain the spread or do we have to consider a full lockdown?
The government has to strike a balance between keeping the economy running and fighting the pandemic. This is part of that calibrated approach. We will review the situation again after May 4.