COVID-19: Will state measures be enough to help Hyderabad contain the spread?

Telangana is one of the few states to have announced a slew of relief measures targeted at health support as well as social security, but what about containment of the virus? Though exact numbers are not known, some patients who have succumbed to the virus had attended the Tablighi event in Delhi.

Left with few options to prevent the spread of the virus, the Telangana police have intensified lockdown procedures by imposing a 7 pm to 6 am curfew in Hyderabad. The government is working to ensure that the city’s 5.4 lakh people below poverty line (BPL) (as per 2017 govt data) — of which 4.3 lakh are in the core city area while the rest live in surrounding municipalities — get adequate relief.

Immediately following the Prime Minister’s speech on March 22nd, Hyderabad saw a sudden exodus of people desperate to reach their villages in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and other states. But the Telangana government did rally round with emotional appeals from chief minister K Chandrashekhar Rao  to the migrant labour to stay in place with promises of all help.

But the focus is on containment of the coronavirus disease. As of now, doctors and medical providers (including some private hospitals), sanitation and public health workers, police, road transport and other departments are working in close coordination with the state authorities to ensure that the number of people who are impacted by the virus are contained. As per the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), as on the morning of April 5th, Telangana reported 93 Novel Coronavirus confirmed cases, 1 cured/discharged and three deaths.

Telangana is also one of the few states to have announced a slew of relief measures.

Supporting farmers

The Chief Minister has ordered the release of water and power supply for crops sown over 50 lakh acres in the current harvesting season. He has assured farmers that the government would buy all their harvest directly at a Minimum Support Price (MSP). Farmers have to carry their bank passbooks at the time of selling their produce to get the money. Only government-operated agricultural markets will be available for consumers during this period.

In coordination with the Agricultural Marketing Department (AMD), the state government has constituted a state-wide monitoring committee to arrange supply and stabilise prices and sale of vegetables and fruits to local Rythu Bazaars and mandis. The Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) has also set up a similar monitoring team to ensure retailers do not jack up prices.

Making foodgrains available

“Whether people are from Telangana or any other state, we shall provide them food,” the Chief Minister promised. “No one needs to panic. No hostels will be allowed to be closed, no one shall be left hungry.” GHMC Mayor B Rammohan and other officials are distributing at least 40,000 meals free of cost each day to the poor in Hyderabad through the Annapurna Canteens being run by the GHMC.

The Agriculture, Horticulture, and Agricultural Marketing departments are operating as normal. Only goods trucks carrying essentials and perishable goods are being allowed inside the city. Excess agricultural produce is being stored in warehouses and local schools/colleges. The government has ordered that dal and rice mills, food and related units, and feed and fodder units will be allowed to operate. Transport of fertilisers, organic, inorganic or mixed as well as seeds and food crops, seeds of fruits and vegetables, and seeds of cattle fodder and jute are also exempted from the lockdown.

Health support

In case the COVID-19 virus enters the community transmission phase in the state, the administration has decided to convert Gandhi Hospital in Secunderabad into an exclusive standalone coronavirus treatment hospital. Adequate infrastructure and manpower has been put in place. The sports complex at Gachibowli is being converted into a makeshift isolation and treatment centre of positive patients, besides the King Koti Hospital. More hospitals may be pressed into service as needed.

The chief minister said the state was readying for any eventuality, including a hypothetical scenario of positive cases touching the 60,000-mark. Arrangements have been made to accommodate more than 11,000 people in isolation wards, besides creating additional 1,400 beds in Intensive Care Units (ICUs). The government has already ordered 500 additional ventilators, according to officials. Currently Telangana has 12,400 beds including ICUs. A committee headed by Vice-Chancellor of Kaloji Narayana Rao University of Health Sciences (KNRHS), Dr Karunakar Reddy, is working on modalities to tap private healthcare resources (beds and infrastructure) across the state if needed.

“Apart from existing 2,000-odd doctors in various government hospitals, we are creating a pool of medical professionals by engaging 11,000 retired doctors, paramedical staff and lab technicians,” the CM said. The government has also ensured that all field level workers, including Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs), are available 24 hours at Primary and Community Health Centres. All leave has been cancelled for healthcare workers of all cadres. The government has ordered Telangana State Medical Services Infrastructure Development Corporation (TSMSIDC) to procure Personnel Protection Equipment (PPE), medical equipment in ICUs and ventilators on a war footing.

Some leading private hospitals have also voluntarily come forward to support free doctor consultations via video calls or on-site services. Currently, tests are being done at government institutes like the Fever Hospital, Institute of Preventive Medicine, Nizams Institute of Medical Sciences and Kakatiya Medical College (Warangal district). GHMC teams and doctors from Basthi Dawakhaanas have been pressed into service. The Disaster Response Force (DRF) personnel of the GHMC are conducting extensive disinfectant activities in the city.

Surveillance and contact tracing

To enable better surveillance and tracking of those who have returned from abroad, the state government has increased the number of surveillance teams. These teams are visiting households of residents who have returned from abroad. The government has directed that all arrivals from international destinations must undergo tests. According to official data, 25,937 people, who returned from abroad, are under surveillance. This includes eight Indonesians, who had come from Delhi in mid-March and were undergoing treatment at the state-run Gandhi Hospital. As per Health Minister Etela Rajender, “all persons who recently came back to Telangana from affected countries will be tracked aggressively and meticulously”.

Although the exact numbers have not been divulged by the Department of Health and Welfare, the nodal agency for disseminating coronavirus-related information, the fact is some of the patients who succumbed to the virus so far had attended the Tablighi event in Delhi in the second week of March.

Mahendar Reddy, DGP Telangana, said the police are trying to persuade citizens to stay home, stay safe and maintain social distance. The city police are also helping migrants with 24-hour validity one-time permits/NOCs and where possible, transportation to nearby locations.


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