A senior member of the Maharashtra government’s COVID-19 task force, Dr Shashank Joshi has admitted the situation in the state “ is very very grim”.
He called the daily increase of 63,000 cases (not counting Monday when cases dip because of fewer tests on Sunday, thus creating a misleading picture of lower cases) “exponential” and “geometric” growth. He said a “tsunami” has hit Maharashtra with the second surge of COVID-19.
In a 37-minute interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, Dr Joshi, who is also a leading endocrinologist, said both private and public hospitals in Mumbai have run short of beds, oxygen and ventilators. He said the problem facing private hospitals is explained by the fact that a far bigger number of well-off people have been infected in the second surge because of their lax COVID-19 behaviour. They have pushed up numbers in private hospitals close to breaking point.
As a result Joshi said his own hospital, Lilavati, has been forced to convert the elevator lobby into an emergency COVID-19 ward.
However Joshi also said the situation in Mumbai’s public hospitals was grim and accepts that several hospitals like Dahisar Jumbo Centre, NESCO Jumbo Centre, BKC Jumbo Centre, Babha Bandra and Sion are turning away patients because they do not have beds. However, he added, the BMC is taking urgent steps to make the War Room functioning faster and more effective. In the interview he gives details.
Outside Mumbai, in cities like Pune, Nasik and Nagpur, Joshi said “health care is completely overwhelmed”. He said the situation is “extremely and very very disturbing”. He said he’s personally “ very distressed”.
Summing up, Joshi said if the health care situation in Mumbai is bad and grim, it’s far worse in the rest of Maharashtra.
In the interview, Joshi said the second surge was undoubtedly the result of a mutant strain of the virus that is definitely more infectious along with lax and irresponsible COVID-19 behaviour. He called this “a double whammy.”
Joshi said India’s health care system had been complacent about the double mutant strain found in Maharashtra. As far back as 6 or 8 weeks ago, Joshi had said that the growing clusters of infection in Ankola and Amravati suggested a mutant stain was at work but the requisite genome-sequencing to establish this was not done. Recently, however, the Director General of the CSIR has assured Maharashtra that genome-sequencing will be done both more quickly and effectively.
Speaking about the Maharashtra double mutant stain, Joshi said not only is it more infectious but in many cases its been found the infection can jump past the nose and throat and straight away attack the lungs.
Joshi confirmed that the case fatality rate of the second surge in Maharashtra is considerably lower than the first but added that because in absolute numbers more people are getting infected therefore there will be a rise in absolute numbers of the people severely ill or who, thereafter, die.
Joshi told The Wire that because more young people are getting infected in the second surge the government must open vaccination to people between 18 and 45 with co-morbidities. He said they now must count as part of the vulnerable population that needs to be protected.
Joshi said he would not advise the Maharashtra Chief Minister to declare a complete lockdown but forcefully added there is a need for stringent restrictive measures. Mask wearing, at all times, is by far the most important.
Watch the full interview here.