COVID-19: Will Bengaluru run out of beds like in mid-2020?

Experts have urged eligible candidates to get vaccinated at the earliest.
Healthcare workers in COVID-19 ward
Healthcare workers in COVID-19 ward

With Bengaluru seeing a relentless surge in COVID-19 cases in the second wave starting March, experts are divided over a potential scenario of hospital beds and critical care units running out as seen in mid-2020.  In that period from June to August, 2020 there were multiple incidents reported across Bengaluru when many people died due to lack of oxygen or other adequate medical infrastructure. 

According to government data, Bengaluru recorded 31,886 cases for the month of March compared to 6,813 cases in February. On Saturday, the city saw 3,002 cases; the highest on a single day was last recorded in June 2020. While currently, around 15% of people suffering from the infection need hospitalisation, the majority can recover in home isolation or institutional isolation facilities.

The constant surge in cases has meant that the demand for ICU beds for COVID-19 patients has increased gradually since March after a period of gradual decline starting from November until the first week of March. On Saturday, the number of patients in Bengaluru needing ICU beds were 157 when only 101 patients needed ICU on March 30. There was a jump in the number of fatalities too. March saw 147 COVID-19 deaths compared to 88 in February.

Dr Giridhara Babu, a senior epidemiologist who is part of the COVID-19 state Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) on Sunday suggested prompt action from officials. He advised people to get vaccinated and wear masks and follow other COVID-19 appropriate behaviours. He feared a situation where the medical infrastructure will get overburdened and prompt the government to call for a lockdown. He also suggested that while the 2020 lockdown was “unavoidable”, corrective action now can prevent a lockdown-like eventuality.

“At this rate, Bengaluru will have ~6500 daily cases by April 20. Even if 10% of them require hospitalisation, the health system will run out of capacity in a few days. We need action now, not tomorrow,” he tweeted.

 At present, BBMP is mulling reserving 40% of private hospital beds for government usage to battle the pandemic, compared to 50% reservation implemented last year. The reservation was withdrawn in November 2020 with a rapid decline in cases.

Dr Pradeep Banandur, another member of the TAC and professor at the Centre for Public Health, NIMHANS, said unlike the first wave, now the onus to control cases mostly lie on the public themselves. 

The public should not forget to follow COVID-19 appropriate behaviour (CAB) and get vaccinated at the earliest, he said. However, he does not fear the situation to be as critical as last year at least at this juncture.

“People have to come forward for the vaccine drive. This will protect people from dying or getting into the ICUs if not protect them from getting infected at all. There are enough vaccines now but people are not coming forward. All the people who died in the second wave were not vaccinated,” he said.

“There is no need for reserving more than 20% of private beds. The reason being at present our government facilities are on average 60-70% occupied. Only when we see it is touching 90%, I feel we should go back to 50% of private hospital beds. But I feel we may not reach that point this time fortunately. At present in Victoria Hospital we have around 215 patients in COVID-19 ward out of 300 beds,” he added.

Dr HM Prasanna, President of the Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes’ Association (PHANA) is of a similar opinion like Dr Banandur. “Now we are better prepared to tackle the disease. The physicians have clinical knowledge of how to treat COVID-19 patients. The same is with paramedical and other support staff. There is no stigma around the disease anymore. Also the general trend with time has been that the incidents of serious cases are still going down even though recently there has been a spike in total case count. Cases that require admission or critical care are only related to comorbidities,” he said.

He added, “Unlike last time, more hospitals are open to treating COVID-19 patients. The number of beds should not be an issue in my opinion. We have more than 600 private ICU beds in private facilities alone. There might be a proportional increase in ICU admissions with the sudden spike in cases.

He, too, suggested that the vaccination drive needs to be expanded and people should come forward. “We have a target to vaccinate 85,000 people for the day set by BBMP but we are only achieving around 35,000. This is not due to shortage of vaccines. So, with this, I am of the opinion that the government should open up the drive for every adult to prevent wastage as we cannot hold the vaccines for long. A decent number of people vaccinated will ensure we have herd immunity,” he added.

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