Covid: Maha slides under 2nd wave, dist admin ‘unfazed’

The Centre warned Maharashtra on Tuesday that the state is witnessing a beginning of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and asked the state government to focus on containment strategies and scale up the pace of vaccination campaign, especially in districts witnessing a sharp increase in infections.

Issuing a letter to Maharashtra’s Chief Secretary Sitaram Kunte, which is based on the assessment of the central govt team, the union health ministry has urged the state to bring down its positivity rate and step up contact-tracing.

The letter enclosed the analysis of the pandemic in Maharashtra by a central team which was deputed there to assess the situation on the ground.

The team noted the lack of Covid-19-appropriate behaviour and tracking and testing of cases as the prime reason behind the infection surge, apart from the apathy of the district administration to implement already prescribed measures for transmission control.

“Maharashtra is at the beginning of the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic. There is very limited active effort to track, test, isolate cases and quarantine contacts. There is no adherence to Covid-appropriate behaviour among people both in rural and urban areas,” the Union Health Secretary, Rajesh Bhushan, warned in the letter.

He also pointed out that eight of the top 10 districts of India in terms of active Covid-19 infections are in Maharashtra and the only way to curb the spread is to increase the pace of vaccination.

“Covid-19 pandemic in the recent past has shown a rising trend in Maharashtra where the number of active cases has increased by 171.5% over the last one month from 36,917 cases on February 11, 2021, to 1,00,240 cases on March 11, 2021,” Bhushan wrote to Kunte.

The letter also noted that the number of people testing positive was high, ranging from 5.1% in Mumbai to 30% in Aurangabad, implying that many cases were not being tested and “there is high transmission in the community”.

The report by the central team revealed that the main concept of contact tracing was not clearly understood by the field level staff.

Due to limited contact tracing, a large pool of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people was not being tracked and tested, said the letter, suggesting that testing be considerably enhanced according to protocol laid down by the Indian Council of Medical Research.

“It was found that the staff were mainly listing the immediate family and neighbourhood contacts, for the sake of listing. The high-risk contacts in workplace settings, social settings and family settings were not investigated.

“The monitoring of the contacts was limited to conveying the message to the high-risk contacts for testing the very next day (and not as per the ICMR guidelines),” the team’s analysis revealed.

“There was no effort to map the cases and contacts and notify the containment zone with perimeter control as to contain or suppress transmission,” it added.

The team observed no adherence to Covid-appropriate behaviour among people, both in rural and urban areas. “This was conspicuous both for physical distancing and for use of masks/face covers. There should be persuasive communication to sustain adherence to Covid-appropriate behaviour,” the report said.

The central team also pointed to the lack of human resource to implement test, track, isolate and treat policy for Covid positive cases. “As the health staff too is pre-occupied with vaccine administration, there is the limited human resource for the surveillance and contact tracing activities,” it reported.

Besides, the team also found a lackadaisical approach of the district administrations to manage the situation on the ground. The District Administration is not much worried about the evolving situation. We could sense a feeling that enough has been done already. This complacency may take its toll,” it concluded.