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Why coronavirus cases spiked in Gujarat

By KIRAN KAPURE
May 11, 2020 18:12 IST
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The second highest number of coronavirus cases in the country.
The worst mortality rate among states.
A none too impressive recovery rate.
Surely this doesn't speak highly of the famed Gujarat model, so what went wrong?
Kiran Kapure reports from Ahmedabad.

IMAGE: Border Security Force personnel patrol a street during the week-long total lockdown imposed in Ahmedabad from May 7. Photograph: PTI Photo
 

With 8,000-plus COVID-19 cases and a death count nearing 500, of which Ahmedabad accounts for the bulk of the cases, Gujarat has the second highest number of coronavirus cases in the country after Maharashtra.

Which leads to the question: What went wrong with the famed Gujarat Model that powered a prime ministerial candidate to office in 2014?

State officials credit the high numbers in Gujarat to the high testing rate and argue that COVID-19 infection is restricted to Ahmedabad and a few other cities like Surat and Vadodara.

With Ahmedabad Municipal Commissioner Vijay Nehra going into self-isolation after coming into contact with an individual who tested positive for the virus, charge of the city has been given to Mukesh Kumar.

With Ahmedabad facing a strict lockdown, the government has deployed five companies of the Border Security Force in the city, particularly in the walled city.

Ahmedavadis have been banned from leaving their homes and all shops are closed for a week, with the exception of medical stores and milk vendors.

The ban was imposed with very short notice, making the situation unbearable for the poor and middle class.

Ahmedabad reported its first case on March 19, and since then the graph has been steadily growing.

State officials say they are doing more testing when compared to Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

Nehra was confident that by testing more Ahmedavadis, even if more patients came to the city hospitals medical teams would be able to handle the situation. Obviously, they could not.

In retrospect, it is clear that the 'more testing = more cases' theory is behind the worrying situation Ahmedabad confronts today.

Another reason behind the spike in cases in Ahmedabad is the dense population in the walled city area.

One area, Jamalpur, has witnessed nearly 700 positive cases. This neighbourhood and Behrampura, Dariyapur, Danilimda in eastern Ahmedabad are densely populated where families live in tiny houses and share common bathrooms and toilets.

With most state governments blaming the Tablighi Jamaat convention in Delhi for spreading the virus, Gujarat is no exception.

More than 1,500 Muslims attended the Tablighi event from all over Gujarat and among them the majority were from Ahmedabad's walled city area, Surat and Vadodara.

Chief Minister Vijay Rupani blamed the Tablighis for spreading coronavirus as did Principal Secretary (health) Jayanti Ravi at a press briefing.

Though there is a grain of truth in what Rupani and Ravi say, the Gujarat government seems to have omitted those who came from abroad whose numbers are much higher than the Tablighi Jamaat attendees.

Lately, Ahmedavadis have also started raising questions over US President Donald J Trump's visit to Ahmedabad on February 24 which saw a huge gathering of people. Congress leaders blame the Trump visit for the virus's spread, and many seem to have picked up the line.

PTI reported on Sunday that about 334 coronavirus 'super-spreaders' have been found in Ahmedabad so far, people like vegetable vendors and grocery and milk shop owners who could get infected and in turn infected many.

According to the PTI report, there could be more than 14,000 potential super-spreaders in the city, and the administration hopes to screen them all in the next three days.

Among the states, Gujarat has the worst mortality rate, 6 per cent, and its recovery rate too is miserable, at 27 per cent.

Health Secretary Jayanti Ravi has blamed comorbidity and advanced age for the high mortality rate in the state.

While the Gujarat government was busy in its blame game, two centres of care -- Ahmedabad's Civil Hospital and SVP hospital -- reserved for the treatment of COVID-19 patients demonstrated poor leadership during the crisis.

Local media reported on the lack of PPE kits, cleanliness, and senior doctors's visits plaguing these two hospitals.

The Samras COVID-19 centre at the Gujarat university hostel -- where asymptomatic patients have been kept -- also faces lack of infrastructure and manpower issues. This situation has broken the trust in public healthcare, forcing people to seek expensive treatment in private hospitals.

The Gujarat government has allowed some private hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients, but this care does not come cheap. Some of these hospitals are known to charge as much as Rs 5 lakhs to Rs 6 lakhs a patient.

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KIRAN KAPURE in Ahmedabad
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