Tamil Nadu recorded 10,941 positive cases of COVID-19 on April 19, bringing the caseload to over 10 lakh at present. For the second day in a row, Tamil Nadu reported over 10,000 COVID-19 cases in a single day. The death toll due to the infection stands at 13,157 in the state.
With the surge in the number of COVID-19 cases, the state government has imposed certain restrictions from April 18 to control the spread of the virus. Night curfew from 10 PM to 4 AM has been announced, effective from April 20. Sunday lockdown has also been announced to prevent the spread of the virus.
But, how well-equipped is the state in dealing with the crisis? State representatives, including Health Minister C Vijaybaskar, have repeatedly assured sufficient vaccines, beds in hospitals, isolation centres and medicines. However, reports from the ground prove otherwise.
OVERBURDENED DOCTORS AND NURSES
Speaking to NewsClick, a government doctor posted on COVID-19 duty in a state hospital, who wanted to remain anonymous, said, “Unlike the last time, it’s difficult to find vacant beds for the newly admitted, so we are forced (somewhat) to discharge patients early for home quarantine.”
Meanwhile, five days ago, on April 14, the Tamil Nadu Health Secretary J. Radhakrishnan had claimed that the occupancy of beds in the state is around 10%, whereas it is 20% in Chennai city.
Regarding shortage of medicine, the doctor said, “As opposed to the last year, this time only those people are getting admitted who have severe symptoms and can be treated only with injections. The hardest part is, as reported by various media, there is a shortage of supplies of Remdesivir and we are using the medicines selectively. Also, once a few patients improve with the first or second dose, Remdesivir is stopped abruptly, instead of completing the usual five day schedule… somehow we are managing to provide Ramdesivir for the needy with the available stocks and efficient use.”
This is contrary to the Health Secretary's claims who had also said that Tamil Nadu had stocks worth Rs 120 crore that would easily last three months. “Separate teams have been formed to ensure the availability and uninterrupted supply of power, oxygen, etc. at hospitals, along with the provision of diesel generators,” he had said.
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Commenting on this, Ashwini, office bearer of the Tamil Nadu MRB Nurses Welfare Association, told NewsClick, “With the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, our workload has increased many fold. We were asked to work for 12 days continuously, with only three days to quarantine. We are exposed to diseased patients for long hours, it is unsafe for us. After we demanded the government for a longer quarantine period, the government has accepted for a week long quarantine period.”
She added, “However, with the shortage of staff, we don't know if a week-long quarantine is feasible. At present, one nurse does the work of three to four nurses. We wear the PPE dress for long hours and end up feeling suffocated and dizzy.”
The government doctor also added, “One good thing is we have a good treatment protocol and manpower and infrastructure to tackle COVID-19. If we have adequate supplies and vacancies in the COVID-19 care centres for the needy (like the last time, which usually takes care of the mild and asymptomatic cases) the spread can be stopped. And yes, with vaccination too.”
EVIDENT VACCINE SHORTAGE, GOVT IN DENIAL
Even as news of vaccine shortage have poured in from various districts, the state Health Minister C Vijayabaskar has outrightly denied it. He said that Tamil Nadu has a stock of 8.8 lakh vaccine doses. G Prakash, Chennai Corporation Commissioner, also said that there is no such shortage of vaccines in Chennai.
However, Ramesh Sundar, the all India president of Federation of Medical and Sales Representatives' Associations of India (FMRAI), said, “Covaxin is in huge demand in the state, I have got three calls since morning asking where they can get Covaxin shots. Many people who took the first shot of the vaccine are not able to get their second shots, and they are running pillar to post in search of it. Private hospitals are turning down people, and asking them to visit government facilities for the vaccine.”
Responding to the April 19 Government of India (GoI) decision to open up vaccination to those above 18 years of age and increased private players, Dr. Sundararaman, Global Coordinator of People’s Health Movement, said, “The government has essentially given freedom to the vaccine makers to sell 50% of their vaccines to the States "in the open market". At what price? This press note says: "private vaccination providers shall transparently declare their self-set vaccination price." This manufacturer-determined price will most probably be the base price from which states will have to bid to procure vaccines.”
Also read: COVID-19: Lakhs of Artistes in Tamil Nadu in Peril Following 2nd Year of Festival Ban
He stated that “So, if there is a shortage of vaccines from May 1, the GoI will simply say that the states are responsible.”
Additionally, Ramesh Sundar said, “The state will have to spend from their health budget, which they will not do. In that case, in the coming days COVID-19 vaccines will be available only to those who can afford it.”
Just a few weeks ago, the Tamil Nadu government was expanding the COVID-19 vaccination drive. The doses of the vaccine were administered at mini-clinics, primary healthcare centres and special temporary hospitals set up by the government. But now, the situation has turned upside down, with demand for vaccines increasing and the government not able to provide.
MIGRANT WORKERS IN PANIC
Thousands of migrant labourers from northern parts of India, living and working in Chennai, thronged the Chennai Central Railway Station trying to find a train back to their native places. Speaking to NewsClick, a worker from Varanasi said, “I am working as a painter in Chennai. When the previous lockdown was imposed, I went back to my native village and returned to Chennai only in January. Now that there is news of another lockdown, I have to go back to Varanasi before it becomes impossible to step out.”
Migrant labourers waiting outside Chennai Central Railway Station. Image courtesy: Lakshmi Kanth Bharathi
The police did not allow the migrant workers inside the railway station, only those with tickets were allowed as and when their trains arrived. Thousands of them waited outside in the burning sun.