Patna: The fear of COVID-19 is growing in Bihar with the number of positive cases touching nearly one lakh and active cases at 35,378, posing a big challenge in controlling the virus’ spread.
However, while the middle class and rich people have locked themselves inside the four walls of their houses, thanks to savings, pensions and ‘work from home’ facilities, the poor have no such luxury.
This is clear from a walk around all posh residential localities in Patna, where very few people can be seen on the streets. While, in lower middle class localities and slum areas, people can be seen on the streets, interacting with each other, or doing some sort of job.
Fearful about ‘community transmission, and accusing the government of “totally failing” to control the spread of COVID-19 and initiating measures too late, Sumit Kumar Singh, a Patna-based businessman, said: “We are living under fear of catching the infection because it appears that community transmission started.” He says whenever he goes outside, the fear of contracting the virus haunts him.
In the past 24 hours, a retired IAS officer and a senior ruling Janata Dal-United leader died due to COVID-19 in Patna. So far, 19 doctors have reportedly also died due to the virus. “All this strengthened our fears,” Singh added.
Rameshwar Sinha, owner of a garment showroom, who lives in a posh locality in the state capital, said there was panic among people. ”How can you expect us to remain calm when there have been COVID deaths within our family and friends circle?”
In well-off areas, fear is making people mostly stay indoors.
“The fear is real. People venture out of their houses once in a week or after a gap of three to four days to buy essential goods, like vegetables, meat, foodgrains and medicines,”Sinha said.
Rajesh Kamal, who lives in an apartment complex, said the middle class are more fearful than others because they are fully aware of poor healthcare infrastructure in the state.
There are four government-run COVID-19-designated hospitals in Bihar, including AIIMS Patna. VIPs – including politicians, their relatives, top government officials, judges, businessmen and doctors – occupy most of the beds in government hospitals. As a result, common folk are finding it difficult to get admission in these hospitals due to a lack of isolation beds, ICUs and ventilators. Given the situation, the majority of COVID-19 patients are in home isolation, and only critical patients are admitted in private hospitals.
However, the lower income and poorer sections have been left with no option but to venture out despite growing fear of COVID-19.
People like Balram Paswan, Dhaneshar Rai and Mohd Tanveer, who have been struggling for livelihood after the lockdown began in March, say they are forced to go out daily in search of odd jobs to earn a livelihood.
”We do not have the option to sit inside our houses. Who will arrange for food for the family? We are also aware of the fear, but we have to take risks “said Paswan, a vegetable vendor.
Rai, who works as a daily wager, said the rich have the option of not venturing out, not the poor. ”Who will fill our stomachs and manage the family if we do not work?”
According to the official Twitter handle of the Health Department, Bihar, on August 14, there were 3,911 new cases, taking the total number of cases to 98,370. Most of these cases were reported in the past two weeks.
Till July 27,Bihar had 41,111 confirmed cases of COVID-19, which has risen to nearly one lakh, and is likely to cross one lakh on August 15, based on the fact on an average nearly 4,000 new cases are being reported per day since the past week.
Bihar Health Secretary Lokesh Kumar Singh, however, maintains that the number of COVID cases are rising as testing has increased. ”The department is increasing testing as per instructions of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar”, he says.
Singh said the positivity rate had declined to below 5% in the state and the recovery rate was more than 66%. Both indicators are good signs, he added.
Bihar crossed the target of testing one lakh samples on August 13. As per official data, the state tested 1,04,452 samples on Thursday, the highest till date.
Till last month, the state government was targeted by the Opposition for the lowest testing rates in the country. The state tested 14,199 samples on July 26 and it had tested 10,000 samples for the first time on July 14.
Despite Bihar increasing its testing rate since the end of July, it is still lagging. The state's tests-per-million people stood at 9,180 on August 10, one of the lowest in the country and less than the national average of 18,086.