Coronavirus: Is Bengaluru battle-ready?

Coronavirus: Is Bengaluru battle-ready?

A Covid-19 public awareness programme outside MG Road Metro Station.

Its tentacles spread worldwide, the Coronavirus / Covid-19 has trapped everyone in mortal fear. Quarantines, masks, screenings and a frantic search for a vaccine have all dominated global narratives. But as the virus simmers on the city’s edge, is Bengaluru prepared for the worst? Is it combat-ready?

The threat is real, and close. Panic had gripped the city after a techie, who landed at the Kempegowda International Airport (KIA) from Dubai, tested positive for the virus in Hyderabad. It did shake up the city’s complacency when it transpired that the person was not even screened as Dubai was not in the Covid-19 radar until then.

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Thermal screening

Lesson learnt, every arriving international passenger is now being subjected to a thorough thermal screening at the airport. Yet, that is still not a foolproof measure of how the virus behaves and how symptoms manifest.

The real measure, as everyone in authority agrees, is how well prepared is the city’s healthcare system, how robust is its information dissemination systems, and how quickly can everything come together to nip any outbreak in the bud.

One problem is this: Karnataka has not had the same experience as Kerala did in handling the Nipah virus. The State cannot take chances with any case. On Thursday, for instance, a 24-year-old pharmacy student with a travel history to Italy showed flu symptoms and had to be rushed for tests.

The city heaved a sigh of relief only after Coronavirus tests by the Virus Research and Diagnostic Laboratory (VRDL), Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute (BMCRI) returned negative. Results are awaited from the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Chest Diseases (RGICD) for samples sent by two in-patient admissions with a travel history to Oman and Philippines.

Beyond panic

‘Don’t panic!’ is an oft-heard advice from health professionals and authorities alike. But, faced with hundreds of patently fake social media forwards professing ready cures, citizens are falling flat for unverified claims. Masks, hand sanitisers are all in short supply. What next?

Also Read: False information, poor awareness matters of concern

In many private hospitals, systemic changes are now in fast forward mode. All incoming patients and relatives are asked to apply sanitisers right at the entrance. Face masks are distributed to those with fever or cough. Mock drills to deal with Covid-19 cases have also begun in a few super-specialty hospitals.

H1N1 surge

A new surge in H1N1 cases has played into this sense of panic, notes Dr Satyanarayana Mysore, HoD, Consultant, Pulmonology, Manipal Hospital. “Those people also would present in no different way from the Corona. They are also forced to think in terms of corona,” he says. But if there is no travel history and if an alternative diagnosis does not show anything, the Corona assumption is discarded.

Like other big hospitals, Manipal Hospitals too has designated a special ward for the Coronavirus-affected in each of its branches. “Even the screening and collection of material are also done in an isolated room. The people who do the job has personal protective equipment, and are well versed in how to safely collect the samples,” Dr Satyanarayana explains.

Travel history, contacts

Not every respiratory illness is going to be linked to Covid-19, he hastens to add. “At least for the next two months, if there is no travel history or there is no contact with a person travelled, it is unlikely that you get symptoms of Corona.”

But any respiratory symptom, even if unrelated, could trigger doubts and suspicious looks from everyone else. “So, even if you have mild respiratory symptoms, it is better to self-quarantine at home. Avoid touching face, nose constantly. Hand hygiene is the best way.”

Surge in demand: N95 masks

The frantic purchase of N95 masks has sparked a shortage in the market. But do such masks serve as foolproof protection at all? “People use commercially available masks, it is a 24/7 solution for them. That may reduce pollution, but that may also increase collection of viral, bacterial droplets on the outer surface of the mask,” warns the doctor.

The outer surface of the mask tends to be highly infected with dust and bacteria. “You are supposed to be washing your hand before touching the mask. Discard it safely and then wash your hand. That is the correct way.”

Regardless of these precautions, the use of both surgical and N95 masks has soared in recent days. This, despite the State Health Department’s daily media briefings reassuring the public that everything is in control.

Experts have suggested that the N95 masks are not really effective since they can filter out only particles that are 0.3 microns in diameter. The Corona virus measures almost 0.12 microns in diameter. But this has made no difference to the frantic purchases, as masks of all kinds are flying off the shelves.

Health dept assurances

On its part, the State has taken stock of the number of N95 masks, personnel protective equipment, isolation beds and Tamiflu tablets (antiviral medication used to treat and prevent Influenza A and B). Ministers and health officials have assured that there are sufficient numbers to address any crisis.

Information and misinformation overload through multiple channels has sparked a precautionary trend in offices: Work-from-home. Gitika Srivastava, founder of Navya, a city-based clinical informatics startup that provides online expert opinions to cancer patients, explains, “The threat of Covid-19 is real, but the response to mitigate is not entirely clear. Given the incubation period of 14 days Navya will work-from-home for 14 days starting Friday.”

During this period, it has asked all its employees to stay indoors, and also restrict their families from going out. At the end of the 14-day period, if they are medically certified with a cold or flu, they are to stay home till they recover.

This, many feel, is a refreshing change from a trend that a tweet put in a nutshell: “Can we trust our companies to manage this situation properly? Many IT companies run sweatshops that basically require their employees to be in their office for 10-12 hours.”

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