As the number of patients contracting COVID-19 is steadily on the rise in Bengaluru, members of the expert committee to tackle the pandemic, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and the Zonal Commissioners will now oversee the management of the situation. Primary and secondary contacts of over 60% of the patients are yet to be traced. TNM spoke to a member of the expert committee, officials with the BBMP and Zonal Commissioners.
The BBMP did not increase the manpower in the team in-charge of tracing contacts of COVID-19 patients, said Dr Giridhar Babu, an epidemiologist working with the Public Health Foundation of India.
â€śThis happens when you rely only on tech and not public health background. The BBMP doesnâ€™t know anything about surveillance and contact tracing. They get to know what cases are coming only through the Indian Council of Medical Research. And tracing so many patients, when they did not create teams in peripheral areas, it became a cause for backlogs in contact tracing,â€ť Dr Giridhar Babu alleged.
With inadequate manpower, sources in the city authority and the expert committee said that BBMP relied heavily on a centralised war room where only seven people worked to trace contacts of patients. â€śThis made people go to private labs to get tested when they showed symptoms. Some people inform the BBMP if they have symptoms or are contacts. Hence, there are cases of people trying to find beds themselves,â€ť a member of the expert committee said.
When Unlock 1.0 came into effect, the BBMP had estimated that by the end of August, Bengaluru would have 4,000 cases. However, over the last two weeks, the cases in Bengaluru have increased rapidly in a short period of time. â€śThis situation was unexpected. We were in the process of preparing for a spike when the number of cases increased,â€ť BBMP Commissioner BH Anil Kumar said.
The situational management plan
Dr Giridhar Babu suggested that the Karnataka government introduce a lockdown for three weeks in order to curb the spike in the number of patients contracting the virus.
â€śHaving more bosses will not help. What helps is manpower for contact tracing and trusting public health advisory groups. BBMP has to change its strategy. Sample distribution to all 22 labs, both private and government-run, is uneven. NMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences) and National Institute of Virolodyâ€™s lab in Bangalore Medical College can only perform 2,000-3,000 tests per day. And yet, most samples are sent to government labs. Testing backlog is an easy problem to solve,â€ť Dr Babu added.
He stated that the situation is out of control and that the BBMP should pool resources and create more manpower for contract tracing. â€śThe real problem is that people donâ€™t know whether they are infecting others. The BBMPâ€™s line workers in the public health section were shifted for solid waste management. They obviously did not deploy many teams. This is also easy to solve and bring them back to trace contacts,â€ť he added.
BBMP Commissioner Anil Kumar said that 50,000 people, including employees in various departments in the BBMP, government departments and citizen volunteers, will be formed to trace contacts. â€śWe are forming booth-level teams. The citizen volunteers would have to report to the zonal surveillance officers,â€ť he added.
Munish Moudgil, Zonal Commissioner for COVID-19 management team in South Zone, said that clearing testing backlogs is the priority.
â€śWe were unable to trace a few patients. We are now thinking about how to manage the situation. We are already in the process of gathering resources and it should be completed soon. We have around 5,000 people on Day 1 and as and when we get more people, they will be deployed to areas that require it the most,â€ť he said.