In an interview with TNM, the Congress MLA says that every constituency should have a testing centre.

Rizwan Arshad wears a mask and walks through Shivajinagar in Bangalore on rounds to check the containment status of the locality
Coronavirus Interview Friday, July 17, 2020 - 15:17

Bengaluru, once touted as the ‘model city’ for the management of coronavirus in the country, has now become one of the cities with some of the largest number of COVID-19 cases in the country. As of the July 16 bulletin, Bengaluru reported that it had 25,288 cases of coronavirus in the city, with 18,8827 active cases.

The reason, according to Congress MLA from Shivajinagar Rizwan Arshad, is that the government was unprepared for the pandemic. “As I have been active in my constituency, I know where the government is losing track. They have lost a very controlled situation,” Rizwan tells TNM.

“The time we got during the lockdown – the government became quite satisfied, because naturally, during the lockdown, the disease doesn’t spread. They neglected setting up infrastructure. They did not prepare themselves for the challenges, which they should have done in the two months of the lockdown,” he says.

How Shivajinagar managed the pandemic

While Rizwan Arshad’s constituency Shivajinagar was one of the first places in Bengaluru to see a high number of cases of COVID-19, today, it’s one of the places in the city where the disease is somewhat under control.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, there were a few cases reported here, and the media would constantly cover the issue, as it is a minority dominated area. There was a lot of right-wing campaigning to malign the Muslim community here. For them, the virus was an opportunity to gain political points,” Rizwan alleges.

“In Shivajinagar, doctors and nurses were staying in a chawl for isolation. There, one nurse tested positive. We decided to test all 85 people staying there, and out of those who were tested, 45 were positive,” the MLA recalls.

“Luckily, we practiced a very stringent lockdown in that area,” he adds, “Even before testing, I was going around and distributing relief material. And therefore, the virus did not even spread beyond that one building.”

“We have kept the historical Russel Market and Commercial Street area closed. Even after the lockdown was lifted, we called a meeting of the commercial establishments, and requested that they keep the shops closed, even during Eid, as it is a major hub for Eid shopping. We took a call to keep it closed as, if anything goes wrong, the whole area is blamed. The shopkeepers all cooperated. After Eid, we allowed them open phase by phase, after mentoring them on how to maintain distancing and marking off the shops,” he explains.

“When the lockdown was lifted, the Russell Market and KR Market was opened on the same day. Now, Russell Market is still functioning, but the KR Market area has been closed. Both the markets operate on the same scale, attracting the same footfall. In KR Market, they allowed people to operate as they had done earlier. But in here, we gave them designated places to operate, and gave them timings. So we have segregated the crowd. All narrow markets were closed and brought to the main markets. We took steps to manage a thickly populated area,” Rizwan adds.

The MLA also says that in Shivajinagar, they focussed on testing and quarantine efforts early. “After the lockdown of one particular block, we got the surroundings also tested. So, somewhere we have been better in managing it in our area is, we have been pushing for testing. It’s the only way to find out, through early detection of cases,” Rizwan says, as he points out that the government however has not tested enough.

“The BBMP is not even testing people surrounding the place where a positive case is found, which is what has led to this surge in cases,” he says.

‘Decentralise pandemic management’

The MLA says that the centralised way in which the pandemic was being handled until recently, and the lack of communication between bureaucrats and elected officials is another key issue in the city. “The public comes directly to us (elected representatives) for any issue. Officials are not reachable to them, and they are not bothered because they are not answerable to the public,” Rizwan says.

Further, the power struggle between ministers even during the time of a pandemic has left the public and elected officials helpless, he adds.

“Sudhakar, Ashok, Ashwath Narayana...Every 15 days, there is a new man, with a new idea and a new approach. Who do we approach? So there is absolutely no coordination. It is not feasible to approach the Chief Minister for every issue,” he says.

‘Focus on health infrastructure’

The MLA also spoke about the need for permanent health infrastructure in the city. “I have been shouting about Bowring and Lady Curzon hospital in my constituency needing infrastructure for a long time. What has the government spent on permanent health infrastructure during such a big pandemic? What will remain after all this? They are not strengthening government hospital facilities across the state,” he says.

“There are 28 Assembly constituencies, there should be 28 testing centres in the city,” he adds.

“The Prime Minister, instead of asking people to diya jalao, thali bajao, he should have said, please come out, we are creating a pool of doctors, you are the army men today. We will stand by you, please come out and help the country. You talk of nationalism, they should have inspired medical professionals to come out to offer their services. Today, you are struggling to take control of private hospitals,” he said.

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