Karnataka’s record is quite patchy. With a population twice that of Kerala, the state has been reporting between 450 and 500 deaths every day, most of them in Bengaluru Urban district. Such a high number of deaths in India’s technology hub points to “late admission due to the non-availability of oxygen beds in time”.
The new cases have been on the rise in Bengaluru Urban and other districts such as Mysuru, Tumakuru, Kalaburgi, Ballari and Hassan. Twenty six out of 30 districts have a positivity rate of more than 20%. While Uttara Kannada tops with 43.7% positivity rate, the latest official estimate suggests that Gadag district’s positivity rate, currently at 21.8%, may see a spike. Karnataka’s positivity rate has crossed 30%, which means that almost one out of three persons is infected. Virologist V Ravi — the nodal officer for genome sequencing of SARSCoV-2 virus in Karnataka — says the double mutant variant (B.1.617) is rapidly taking over or replacing all other variants. “At the end of March, the double mutant variant was detected in 5-10% of community samples but now it has spread to about 45% samples. The other variant that is also quickly spreading is the UK variant,” he says.
Officials battling the situation said doctors could have saved some patients but for the shortage of oxygen beds. “The supply of beds has been far lower than the demand. Even where such beds are available, hospitals undergo tense moments as they have to manage with cylinder refills every few hours,” an official said. Any delay in the arrival of cylinders can cost lives, as was witnessed in Chamarajanagar district where 24 patients died last week at a government-run Covid-19 hospital. In this case, the district hospital relies upon the neighbouring Mysuru for supply of refilled cylinders. In fact, about a third of Karnataka’s 30 districts don’t have an oxygen bottling unit of their own.
Hospitals send their cylinders to nearby districts for refill. The Centre has identified Vijayanagar in Ballari district for setting up a temporary Covid-19 hospital next to the JSW Steel plant. The unit can supply oxygen directly to the hospital, providing immediate succour to patients. The steel factory currently sends liquid medical oxygen by trucks to bottling units which in turn supply to hospitals.
In Bengaluru Urban, the city with the largest number of active cases, there has been a big rise in discharges and a fall in the growth of new cases. This is giving healthcare officials a small sense of relief. According to virologist Ravi, the second wave will peak in Bengaluru in mid-May and then it may take 4-6 weeks for cases to decline. But, he says, cases will continue to surge in districts after the second wave plateaus or declines in Bengaluru. Authorities are turning their focus to districts to contain the upsurge, even as they try to save lives in Bengaluru by triaging patients and streamlining bed allotment so that those with mild systems don’t occupy hospital beds.