After drawing flak for poor testing, Telangana govt to scale up sample collection

At the same press meet, Chief Secretary Somesh Kumar said that the death rate from COVID-19 is low in Telangana at 1.7% compared to the national average of 3%.
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After drawing flak for weeks over inadequate testing, the Telangana government has said that it will scale up testing facilities in the jurisdiction of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC), especially in its south and west zones. This is part of the Telangana government’s plan to conduct 50,000 tests in and around Hyderabad over a span of 10 days.

Speaking to reporters in the city on Monday, Telangana Health Minister Eatala Rajender said that swab collection, which had been halted since June 27 due to overload of samples, will also resume from Tuesday. Hyderabad, in GHMC limits so far, has 10,666 coronavirus positive patients, of which 7,250 are active. However, most of these people are in home isolation and are getting treatment. Of them, only 26 were required to come back to hospital for treatment.  

The minister also talked about how the state is handling the pandemic, capacity building, as well as some contentious issues such as government officials preferring private hospitals for treatment over government ones, among others.

Capacity building

The minister said that there are four government hospitals from Telangana which are designated for COVID-19 treatment so far, which include Gandhi Hospital, King Koti Hospital, Chest Hospital and the Telangana Institute of Medical Sciences (TIMS) which is expected to open soon. Some treatment is also being done at the Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences (NIMS).

Authorities have reiterated that there was no OutPatient (OP) ward in Gandhi Hospital, which has been earmarked specifically for COVID-19 treatment. Special Chief Secretary (Health) A Shanti Kumar said that the OP block of King Koti Hospital is open around the clock for those with COVID-19 symptoms to come forward and get tested and treated. 

“9,000 patients are being managed from the Health Department. Several patients are in home isolation and getting treatment from us through our call center. We are providing telemedicine facilities. As testing has been ramped up, all the beds are also ready. Persons who are suspected to have COVID-19 can't go to Gandhi Hospital as there are chances of them being exposed to coronavirus positive patients. They must go to King Koti,” she said.

The Health Minister also responded to multiple reports in the media and accounts by people that COVID-19 wards in private hospitals were completely full and there was a long waiting list for a bed. 

Rajender said that out of the 2,000 beds available in Gandhi Hospital, only 600 to 650 beds were occupied while the remaining were available. “We have recruited 4,000 new staff to work in our hospitals, 150 ambulance vehicles are deployed. We are appealing to private hospitals not to admit people without symptoms, so that resources will not be exhausted,” he said. 

Among the 9,000 people currently under treatment for COVID-19 in the state, the minister said that 255 are healthcare workers from government hospitals, and 31 from private hospitals. One death was also recorded recently – a head nurse working in the Government Chest Hospital. Additionally, a total of 124 policemen have also tested positive for coronavirus so far, Rajender added. 

At the same press meet, Chief Secretary Somesh Kumar said that the death rate from COVID-19 is low in Telangana at 1.7% compared to the national average of 3%. He added that the increase in COVID-19 patients in cities like Hyderabad is natural as there is higher population density and more economic activity.

“We have appealed to private hospitals in Telangana to charge as per the fixed slabs and action would be taken on those who violate rules,” she added.

Responding to repeated criticism that the government has faced for low testing, the Chief Secretary said that they have their own strategy and are following guidelines issued by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

Allegations of lax facilities at govt COVID-19 hospitals

Asked why public representatives were not being admitted in the state-run Gandhi Hospital and being shifted to private hospitals instead, Rajender said that a deputy secretary-rank officer was getting treated in the government hospital.

Pressed on the issue of the coronavirus positive MLAs who were admitted to private hospitals, the minister said that some people might have their own family doctors there so they would have preferred getting admitted in those particular hospitals. The MLAs in question are Jangaon MLA Muthireddy Yadagiri Reddy, Nizamabad Urban MLA Bigala Ganesh Gupta and Nizamabad Rural MLA Bajireddy Govardhan.

The minister was also questioned about a viral video of a deceased COVID-19 patient, Ravi Kumar, who alleged in the video that though he couldn’t breathe, the doctors at Government Chest Hospital removed the ventilator. Ravi Kumar was allegedly turned away from several hospitals in Hyderabad initially, and was allegedly removed from oxygen support even before his coronavirus test results came. According to the Chest Hospital authorities, there were cardiac complications and his death was not directly related to the novel coronavirus.

Rajender took a defensive tone, saying, “The need for ventilators will be decided by the doctor. The person who died had a heart problem; it wasn’t because of a lung issue. We are giving mobile phones to talk to parents, not to record such issues.” 

The Telangana government has also faced criticism for its lack of details in the daily COVID-19 bulletins that are issued. Stating that till now, 247 people had died in Telangana, the Health Minister said that they would separately mention the reason of death and the age of the patients from now on. 

It was also mentioned that if needed, the government could also re-enforce lockdown in Hyderabad. The decision will be taken in a cabinet meeting in the next four to five days.

Read: 'Can't breathe': Hyd COVID-19 patient alleges poor hospital care in video before death

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