India Coronavirus Dispatch: Are non-metro regions ready to deal with virus?

A health worker in PPE collects a sample using a swab from a girl at a local health centre to conduct tests for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), amid the spread of the disease at Ajmeri Gate area, in Delhi
Out of metros, into the rest of India: Covid-19 is now surging in the non-metro parts of India and has exposed a major weakness: the lack of public health infrastructure. In Kalyan-Dombivali, a satellite town 40 km from Mumbai, the local hospital has only one ventilator which it received 15 years ago in the aftermath of heavy flooding. It isn't just the low number of critical equipment that’s hurting the local battle against the pandemic. A low number of specialists trained to handle such crises is also pinching. With public healthcare in bad shape, most residents are left with only two options: avail healthcare in incredibly expensive private hospitals or shift to the cities for treatment. In Mumbai, on July 31, 32% of patients occupying the city’s Covid beds were from satellite towns. Read more here.

Gendered burden: From surveillance teams, contact tracers, to services and personal care industry, it’s women who seem to dominate the on-ground response against Covid-19. But it’s not just the case with the current pandemic. In past outbreaks, too, women did much of the groundwork while men dominated the policy response. A further gender analysis shows that diseases affect men and women differently and has seldom been studied because of an inherent bias towards males. A gender-based understanding of the pandemic may not only help understand the virus better but may help better inform the response to it. Read more here.

Refusing admission: A private hospital in Ludhiana has refused to admit new patients or increase beds in the facility citing a dharna by its staff. This comes three days after showcause notices were issued to three hospitals in the city for not admitting a patient who later died. Ludhiana has the highest caseload in the state and also the maximum number of deaths. Some members of the staff are currently protesting roster duties, longer hours of work and the fact that some hospital employees tested positive. Read more here.

Next nightmare: The nationwide lockdowns put into place for containing the spread of the virus have had yet another unintended consequence: the upending of India’s child immunisation programme. Health experts now fear this could lead to an outbreak of measles among children who were not administered the MR vaccine on time. A stretched public healthcare system and contradictory guidelines by the Health Ministry meant the burden of immunisation fell disproportionately on ASHA  workers. However, the migrant crisis added to existing problems. Read more here.

In Numbers

Worst-hit: According to this comparative analysis, it was the middle and upper-middle class Indians that suffered the worst hit in terms of income growth during the coronavirus-induced lockdowns. The metric used for the analysis is a comparison of the number of families that reported growth in income in the corresponding year-ago period. In 2019, more than half the households earning more than Rs 5 lakh saw an increase in their incomes. This number dropped to less than 15% during lockdown. Similar comparison across income groups shows that the gap widens as the income amount increases. However, it should be noted that the economically well-off are in a better position to handle jolts to their income compared to the poor. Read more here.

Long Read

A tale of two lives: This moving story details the stories of two families in Maharashtra. In one family, a member tested positive for coronavirus after returning from a Tablighi Jamat congregation in Haryana. After he was admitted to the hospital, the entire family was placed under home quarantine — he calls it house arrest — for a month despite none of them testing positive. This meant great economic loss as the rabi crops the family had worked on rotted away. His photo went viral after a local channel flashed it on screen, leading to further ostracisation. The experience for the second family, a well-off one, was markedly different. They faced no discrimination and neighbours warmed up to their needs. Read the story here.  


Challenges ahead: The director of a Chandigarh hospital says the major challenge in the near future is staff shortage. Frontline healthcare workers are the most vulnerable group as they're constantly in touch with both asymptomatic and symptomatic patients. As far as Chandigarh is concerned, a major cause of concern is the influx of cases from neighbouring states. Also, he warns that a lot of the new cases are coming from newer areas of the city. He stresses on the need for citizenry to follow guidelines. Read the interview here.

Photo Essay

It’s Kharif season: In Chhattisgarh, farmers are back to their fields. It’s the crucial kharif cultivation time of the year. During the coronavirus-induced lockdowns, most of the agrarian labourers were out of work and incomes came to a grinding halt. While they’re aware that the world is greatly altered now because of the pandemic, they say they’re left with no choice but to go back to the fields and try to maintain social distancing while working. “If we don’t work, we will die of hunger. We cannot afford the luxury of staying safe at home,” they say. Almost none of them wear masks while working, though. See the essay here.

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