DH Deciphers | Why is Bengaluru seeing Covid-19 surge?

DH Deciphers | Why is Bengaluru seeing a sudden surge in Covid-19 cases?

Representative image. Credit: DH Photo

The sudden surge in Covid-19 cases in the city has set off alarm bells, not just because of its sheer scale but also because of perceived government missteps that prompted the crisis. According to insiders, state officials were informed by epidemiologists and other experts in the third week of June that the number of new cases in the city would see a dramatic increase from June 21 onwards. The revelation is said to have prompted dread within the government. In retrospect, it is now clear why health officials hastened to add beds within private hospitals. But what prompted the surge in cases in the first place? 

What caused the sudden surge? 

It is perhaps apt to say that we are now dealing with consequences of governmental decisions made weeks ago. Epidemiologists are clear: the dilution of the lockdown and limited efforts by the government to enhance its surveillance mechanisms in the interim. Dr Giridhar Babu, a member of the state’s expert committee, explains that "a lockdown alone cannot contain a pandemic, all it can do is buy a government time to scale up its surveillance system and medical infrastructure." The situation has been worsened in recent weeks by a large number of people flouting basic measures such as social distancing and mask-wearing, Babu says. 

But we had so many weeks of the lockdown. Why didn't it check the infections? 

For one, the government imposed a lockdown when 100 cases had already been registered in the state. Then, a mere 19 days into Lockdown 1.0, the government announced that it would be restarting some economic activity. Epidemiologists had opposed the move. Twenty days later, another blunder was made when interdistrict and interstate travel was sanctioned, opening the floodgates. At this point, the state had only 615 cases and 28 deaths. Within a month, on June 4, this had risen to 4,064 cases and 59 deaths. 

Isn't the BBMP’s new scaled-up random testing programme the true reason for the surge in cases?

No. The BBMP announced that it would conduct 7,500 random tests per day, starting June 22. However, from June 22 to 28, it conducted only 23,578 tests (an average of 3,368 tests per day). On June 29, it did better by conducting 7,910 tests, but then, zero tests were conducted on June 30, only 934 on July 1 and 4,370 on July 2. 

Was a backlog of data also responsible?

Various officials say, yes. BBMP Commissioner B H Anil Kumar said that a national-level change in the recording "window" of new cases had created a serious technical issue. The problem began when the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) changed its data upload times from 5 pm to 5 pm to noon to midnight, which prompted a large backlog of cases to spill over into the next day. About 400 of these backlog cases comprised the June 27 city tally of 596. Even as the BBMP tried to sort out its database to accommodate for the new ICMR policy, many Covid-positive individuals were left out of the loop, without hospitalisation, a government source said. 

What about the testing backlog?

The closure of two Covid-testing labs, at Nimhans and the BMCRI, after staffers tested positive for the disease, created a huge backlog of untested swabs, roughly 14,000 in seven days. As these labs handle the bulk of testing in Karnataka, their closures had a detrimental effect. The BMCRI lab has subsequently reopened and the resumption of large-scale lab testing has revealed many new cases from the overall backlog sample at once.