As cases have been climbing rapidly in the city and in Karnataka, healthcare workers say that they are overstretched.

A line of Ambulances wait outside a Bengaluru hospital
Coronavirus Coronavirus Wednesday, April 21, 2021 - 09:30

For the last week, ambulances have been queuing outside St John’s Hospital in Bengaluru, as there is a rush of patients waiting to be admitted. The staff is seen running back and forth noting down each patients’ vitals, while doctors gauge their condition and shift them to respective wards. Non-COVID-19 patients are accommodated in a separate, small space in the hospital.

With a surge in COVID-19 in the city and in Karnataka, hospitals in Bengaluru have seen a sudden rush of people, which has left doctors, nurses and staff feeling overwhelmed.

Dr Sanjiv Lewin, the Chief of Medical Services at St John’s Hospital told TNM that they have witnessed patients constantly arriving at the hospital throughout the day. As of Tuesday evening, at least 50 people were lined up outside the hospital including attendants of patients who had been admitted, besides ambulances. 

“There has been a continuous flow of people over the last few days and it has predominantly been COVID-19 related patients desperate for beds. The emergency ward is overstretched. Doctors and nurses are also getting stretched,” he said. 

Doctors and staff fatigued

Putting things in perspective, Dr Sanjiv said, “Cases have climbed very rapidly over the last week from 32 COVID-19 patients to about 390 patients in our hospital alone. Around 67% to 72% of these are beds put aside on the request of the government. We have tried to limit our private patients because we need to provide government beds, as we felt it is the need of the hour.” 

“It is certainly taking a huge strain on us. We have around 500-odd non COVID-19 patients which has come down from 750. We are trying to discharge more of them, simply so that we can make more room for COVID-19 patients. We have increased our capacity to take in COVID-19 patients each day over the last week, to accommodate around 50 to 75 beds more,” he added. 

The situation was no different at St Philomena's Hospital when TNM visited it on Tuesday, where there were barely a few beds empty for COVID-19 patients.

"Almost all beds are taken and more people are coming in every day. We are seeing an influx of patients similar to the peak last year, but this year, we also have the vaccination drive that is ongoing. It has been draining and many of us are tired," a nurse from the hospital who wished to remain anonymous, told TNM. 

Another staff member said, "Last year, we used to sanitise the entire premises even if there was one COVID-19 patient. This time, we sanitise less frequently simply because we are overwhelmed with the vaccination drive and caring for patients who are coming in." 

At Bowring and Lady Curzon Hospital, out of the total 160 beds for COVID-19 patients, there were no ICU beds available as of Tuesday evening and only two High Dependency Unit (HDUs) were available out of the 130. 

A senior doctor there told TNM, "Our main issue is handling the influx of patients. Our beds are full and we have to send back some people who come in. Because the awareness seems to be more this year, many are coming forward at an earlier stage as soon as they show symptoms of the disease, but we are admitting only those who require hospitalisation and recommending home quarantine to the others."  

The rise in COVID-19 cases has also prompted an increase in fatality rates. Videos have surfaced which show a long line of ambulances waiting for their turn in Bengaluru to cremate the bodies that they were carrying. 

TNM visited two crematoriums in Bengaluru, whose employees said that the fear surrounding the virus seemed to have waned. "Earlier, just one or two people would come for the last rites, but now entire families turn up. Many of them do not wear masks properly despite our insistence. The fear that people had during the peak of COVID-19 last year seems to have gone and they are more casual about it," Salman Waseem, a COVID-19 volunteer at the Khuddus Saheb Cemetery said.

What the data says

In the last week, Bengaluru has reported an increasing number of COVID-19 cases with the toll reaching 13,646 on April 20 – the highest single-day spike in the city since the coronavirus pandemic began. 

According to a document on bed availability put out by the Karnataka Health Department, as of Tuesday evening, 93.69% of all beds in government medical colleges and 93.33% of all beds in government hospitals that had been earmarked for COVID-19 patients are occupied. The data also shows that 100% of ICU beds in government hospitals had been occupied, with the number still staying above 90% after taking private medical colleges and private hospitals into account. 

BBMP Commissioner Gaurav Gupta told TNM on Saturday that the civic body was working towards providing the necessary infrastructure. “We have two operational COVID-19 Care Centres and will be opening 10 more in the coming days. The helpline to answer queries related to COVID-19  have been increased,” he said. He added that the facilities will tend to those with mild to moderate symptoms and those who do not have provisions to isolate at home.

Speaking about tackling the second wave, Dr Sanjiv Lewin said, “There is fatigue but there is also a sense of this is what we have to do. We are fully aware of the crisis and we know it is going to escalate because we are very clear that without a lockdown of some sort — a restricted non-essential lockdown along with universal immunisation coverage, we will be stretched further. On Monday, we had a staggering 2,000 outpatients in the OPD. We can only hope that it will come down with time, which will give us more breathing space. It has been a challenge.”

On Tuesday night, the Karnataka government announced a night curfew for two weeks beginning April 21. In addition to this, all cinema halls, shopping malls, gymnasiums. yoga centres, spas, theatres, bars and auditoriums will remain closed till May 4.

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