The second wave of the coronavirus has once again disrupted Bengaluruâ€™s gradual return to normalcy. With the city recording over 10,000 COVID-19 cases on Thursday, questions of increased restrictions to control the surge are being asked. TNM spoke to the BBMP Commissioner, Gaurav Gupta who has urged the citizens to not venture out unless required. In this interview, he also enlists the measures taken in the last one year to build the BBMPâ€™s capacity to handle COVID-19 effectively.
What are the major reasons for the surge Bengaluru is witnessing in COVID-19 cases?
This strain of virus is more infectious, possibly less virulent, but it spreads very fast. People thought it was business as usual and life was back to normal; and people were partying, there were weddings, rallies, protests and even birthday parties. And that continued, and people thought COVID-19 would never come back. But by the middle or end of March it was clear that things are turning back. And unlike last year, travel is open and there's no quarantining required. All this makes it easy for somebody to contract the virus.
Would you advise for more restrictions, maybe even a lockdown?
What is necessary, I think, is for everybody to protect themselves. Mass sanitization and distancing particularly from crowds is very critical, do not venture out unless it is essential. And if you protect yourself, your family, I'm sure that will protect the community and society and through that the entire city and the state.
Night curfew has been implemented already by the state government, bars restaurants and other such kinds of facilities have been restricted to 50% capacity. Common amenities in apartments and other areas have been closed completely. So, restrictions have been put and if necessary, they can be increased. But more importantly, now the virus is there in our proximity and that will incubate.
So, we all need to understand that whatever is happening today is a reflection of indiscriminate behavior 15 days back. I appeal to all of you, the situation is handleable but please do not ignore the symptoms and get yourself tested. 80% of people will still be home isolated. But if people go for early testing and we are able to identify cases quickly, it will save a lot of people.
So timely isolation, timely testing, is absolutely necessary. For example, we are working with resident welfare associations and apartment associations to decentralise and make it possible for their own premises to have collections for testing and also vaccination wherever possible. So we want to work with the community.
Is the second wave being driven by younger people? Can you help us understand this with numbers?
The second wave is definitely driven by younger people. If you see the testing that is done testing patterns reveal that people between 30-45 years are testing positive more. That is maybe because they are more mobile. But I'm also told that some of the cases are going bad even in younger people, relatively younger people. So it's not that the fatalities are only among old people, it's getting significant even in the younger group.
I think scientists and researchers are trying to understand why this is. I hear in Brazil even kids are contracting the virus. But the only thing is that we have to prepare for the surge.
Bangalore has reported over 10,000 cases in a day. So, what are the extra measures being taken over the next few days to tackle the second wave?
We have increased the helpline numbers and have started a new four digit helpline 1912. And we have increased the number of staff managing the helpline and also in the internal war rooms.
We have the city divided into eight zones and as soon as positive cases are reported, their addresses are verified and then the availability of rooms etc for home isolation is checked. Accordingly they're bucketed by triaging. People just need to contact the helpline and they will connect the rest.
We are deploying more staff for home visits. It has to be done for family tracing, contact tracing etc and all that has to be done as early as possible.
Around 10% of the total patients will come in for hospitalization which means that more number of beds need to be made available.
BBMP does not run tertiary hospitals, they are maintained by the government and private hospitals. However, our war rooms are doing bed allotment based on the matrix available. We have a number of software systems to manage the entry of a number of people in databases, their addresses, their phone calls, their allotment etc.
Every day, we are adding more beds and we are also allocating more beds. We are also augmenting the ambulances that are required to transfer the patients. We had about 200 ambulances, now we have increased to 400.
A certain number of deaths are inevitable and there will be an increased requirement of hearse vans which carry the dead bodies to the crematory. The number of hearse vans have been increased. There will be pressure on the crematoriums as well. And we have 13 electric crematoria and we have seen to it that their upkeep, their staff and other things can be augmented.
All these facilities are being rendered free of cost to the people.
How many private hospitals in Bengaluru have allotted COVID-19 beds and what percentage does that constitute of the total number of COVID-19 beds?
With respect to Bangalore, we have only four categories of facilities. One is government medical colleges, government hospitals, then we have private medical colleges and private hospitals. So, approximately, I would say that it would be around 20-30,000 beds in the private sector. In the government sector there are around 4,000 beds available for the COVID-19 patients. So, the private sector is a predominant player.
We have also started COVID-19 care centers for mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic patients who cannot remain in isolation in their houses because of lack of room or because of any other reason like lack of separate toilets etc. We have started this in two places and are going to start 10 more in the coming days.
Right now, the capacity of these facilities is around 800 beds and another 1500 will be added. And that will provide the necessary support. Besides, we are also working with private hotels, private hospitals and private hoteliers to see how they can convert hotels into private COVID-19 care centers.
Why is there no dashboard in the public domain by the BBMP which can display crucial details like beds available in private hospitals?
We're working with the private hospitals and their association on the same. We have informed them that they can use our portal to display the availability of COVID-19 beds in their hospitals. This will help people as they will know where to apply and there can be a single helpline through which people can apply. The efforts have been made at the state government level also to make this possible and I think so far the response has not been at the expected level. Private hospitals are working perhaps in the individual mode and not in a collective mode. But I understand the concern that people should not be expected to run around.
These things require either a consensus or if consensus does not happen, then coercion. At the local body level, we have our hands full, so I leave this to others at the state government level to take this up. I am sure they are working towards it.
Q What is the current policy on containment zones?
This time, zone policy is seen. If there are five or more cases it is called a cluster and in that case, that particular area, nearby houses or maybe even a tower vertically will be considered a zone. So, there will be only a few of the houses that will be taken up for micro containment and that is marked for till the time those cases recover and they become safe. Then the micro containment zone is disbanded.