Published on April 19, 2021
Gujarat’s Chief Minister Vijay Rupani in an interview with TOI’s Parth Shastri talked about the state battling the Covid-19 health crisis, long queues outside hospitals, the piling up of bodies at crematoriums, and the lessons learnt from the previous spikes in infections
How is Gujarat coping with the alarming surge in cases?
The state has added 37,000 beds for Covid-19 treatment, taking the total number to 78,000. Of the total, 35,000 are now oxygen beds and 10,000 ICU beds. We are adding 8,000 beds with oxygen supply in next 10 days on a war footing.
Could the local body elections have contributed to the current surge of Covid cases in Gujarat?
The elections were held in February when cases in the state were very few — about 300 daily. The elections were scheduled in November, but given the Covid situation, the state election commission was requested to defer it. In an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court, the commission had said that the polls would be conducted within three months. Thus, they were held. The rise in cases is a national phenomenon. Several states such as Maharashtra are recording a surge in cases though no election took place in those states in recent times.
Ambulances are lining up outside government hospitals daily. What’s going wrong?
We are at the Covid peak in cities such as Ahmedabad where even with the 14,000 overall bed capacity, private hospitals are nearly full. Thus, we are constantly increasing health infrastructure like beds in government hospitals and those run by the municipal corporation on a war footing. Of the 8,000-odd beds at Medicity, over 3,000 are earmarked for Covid patients. Yes, there are queues of ambulances. But one must understand that against 25 patients in the queue, there are 3,000 being treated inside the hospital. We are not sending anyone back. Patients are assured of beds and treatment.
What about the rise in the death toll? Are the numbers showing the true picture of the pandemic?
You are referring to the visuals of many pyres at crematoriums. Yes, deaths have increased over the past few days. The rise in Covid mortality has been recorded across the country. The method of recording Covid deaths has been stipulated by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and all states, including Gujarat, are following it. Other states are also not recording the deaths of comorbid patients as Covid fatalities. Across Indian states, the daily mortality rate hovers around 1%, which is closer to what Gujarat is reporting. But we can assure people that every death is being investigated and recorded by the death audit committee.
Relatives have to endure a long wait to claim bodies…
See, after a patient’s death, it takes about two hours for the death audit committee to complete its work. Then there are other procedures, including the identification of the deceased. We understand the sentiments of relatives. Thus, we have a system in place under which the officials release the body after coordination with crematoriums to reduce the waiting time. We are now also allowing the last rites of patients from outside the cities at their native places. Our purpose is to free the medical staff from this coordination function. Also, we have deployed over 22 IAS officers on Covid duty.
Is Gujarat performing adequate tests? The state’s RT-PCR numbers were the lowest among the major states, according to a recent report.
By March 15, Gujarat was performing about 50,000 daily tests. On April 17, the state performed 1.73 lakh. We have increased the share of RT-PCR tests in the total tests to 50% —whether they are performed in urban or rural areas. The labs are working round the clock, and we are ensuring that the test results are delivered within 48 hours. We are also keeping a close eye on the positivity rate. The state currently has a cumulative rate of 2.5%. Through the Itihas system, we are identifying potential areas with high positivity.
The government is increasing the number of beds, but what about staff?
Almost the entire staff of the state health department — about 2 lakh officers and personnel ranging from sanitation workers to medical superintendents — is on Covid duty. Right from superspecialty doctors to medical interns, all are treating Covid patients. Besides, the doctors are also required for initiatives such as Dhanvantari Rath, Sanjivani Rath, 104 fever helpline and so on. For this, we have roped in all the PG students, final-year MBBS students, and all AYUSH and homoeopathic doctors. Two decades ago, the state had only 11 medical colleges; now it has 41. Hospitals and medical colleges in areas like Dahod are catering to a large local population. Likewise, we are also pooling in all available nursing staff and students. We are incentivizing resident doctors with stipends of Rs 25,000 and intern doctors with Rs 5,000. The medical students’ bond period is also considered during their Covid duty, which is a plus for them.
How equipped is Gujarat in terms of Covid medicines? Were the queues outside hospitals for remdesivir a wake-up call?
Gujarat is producing about 30,000 remdesivir injections daily. Of that, about 17,000 are being procured by the state government. We have a system in place where even private hospitals are provided the injections at their doorsteps. We have ensured several steps to prevent profiteering. Likewise, the state is also keeping a close eye on other medicines required for Covid patients. We have procured over 15.3 lakh favipiravir tablets, of which 2.4 lakh are currently with hospitals.
What steps are being taken to ensure the prevention of Covid spread from other parts of the country in the wake of major events such as Kumbh Mela?
We have already issued an order to not only screen, but also conduct the RT-PCR test for all returning from the Kumbh Mela. We have chowkies at the state border to screen every person and check whether they have valid RT-PCR negative certificates issued within the stipulated period. Stringent checks are implemented at railway stations, airports and bus depots. Moreover, the focus now is to create more micro-containment zones to prevent the spread. Gujarat currently has over 22,000 such zones where 13,000 teams of medical staff are carrying out tests.