Snags in accessing tests, critical care beds, oxygen supply during first wave’s peak, have resurfaced 

With India reporting 1.8 lakh daily infections and the second wave appearing to surpass the worst of the first wave, health systems are struggling to cope with the sudden onrush of patients. States like Maharashtra, MP, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh may be currently facing the brunt but their experiences serve a warning to others to start bolstering their healthcare defences to avoid getting swamped. Unlike the first wave that took months to peak in mid-September, this one started manifesting in mid-February and has skyrocketed over the last two weeks catching every unprepared state by surprise.

Doctors are far more confident now of saving lives and treatment protocols are largely standardised though differences over plasma therapy, remdesivir and other drugs persist. They especially highlight the importance of early diagnosis and timely basic medical interventions like oxygen supply and steroids in reversing severe infections. But the sudden spurt has created a situation where getting tested and securing admission to hospitals is proving tough in many cities. Forced to improvise, UP government has ordered roping in senior MBBS students for Covid duties. The situation calls for proactive government actions and effective communication.

Critical care bed positions in hospitals must be advertised widely and telemedicine facilities expanded to allow patients to get timely medical help. Testing capacity has now touched 14 lakh daily tests – nearing the peaks achieved last September and October during the first wave’s zenith. But the increased contagiousness, evident from a twofold rise in detected infections from September’s peak, requires a proportionate scaling up of testing capacity. Otherwise, precious time is lost in diagnosis itself. Equally vital is scaling up oxygen supply to hospitals, a chronic problem last year too. With Centre in talks with industrial oxygen suppliers, address this scarcity urgently.

Suspicion that death counts are being fudged, with Covid protocol cremations reportedly outnumbering the official death counts in Gujarat and MP, doesn’t help. Instead, more studies are needed to understand the peculiar dynamics of the current surge, for instance the double mutant strain detected in 61% of Maharashtra samples. The effectiveness of locally available vaccines against mutations must also be gauged. Spared the worst in the first wave, spurting cases in tier 2 and 3 cities and small towns, first noticed in Maharashtra in February, demand a countrywide ramp-up of healthcare capacity.


This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.


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