Rising cases of COVID-19 infections across municipal corporations falling under the Mumbai and Pune districts have led to panic among the citizens. The cases in these two circles have risen from 7,27.553 and 5,27,673 on March 1 to 10,27,572 and 7,63,519 respectively on April 8.
Pune and Mumbai circles are also the two top ranking districts with the highest number of active cases, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. From the cities under the jurisdiction of both the districts, Pune Municipal Corporation has been reporting inadequate beds, especially beds with ventilators not available across the boundaries of the corporation.
Ventilators are required for critical cases when the SARS-CoV-2 virus has attacked the lungs making it extremely difficult for the infected people to breathe. All the 551 ventilators at hospitals within the jurisdiction of the Pune Municipal Corporation are occupied while neighbouring hospitals from the Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation have only 26 vacant ventilator beds. In totality, all the various municipal corporations, gram panchayats, and cantonment boards have only 63 available beds with ventilators.
The situation in Mumbai pertaining to ventilators is not bright either. Public and private hospitals falling within the boundaries of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation or the BMC have only 58 available beds with ventilators. The satellite city of Navi Mumbai also has only 46 beds with ventilators available at its disposal. Thane's dashboard only provides the total number of beds and their vacancy, but given the high occupancy rate of COVID-19 beds, the chances of getting a vacant bed with a ventilator is less.
BOOM contacted two doctors from Mumbai as well as Pune to understand the situation of beds. While doctors in Pune refused to comment, the doctors in Mumbai stated that Mumbai has beds and the administration is preparing to increase the infrastructure, and thus the panic that is induced can be controlled if the public only follows what the BMC is saying.
The BMC has already passed a rule stating that the allocation of COVID-19 beds can only be conducted by the ward war rooms so that it can be a smooth process for every citizen. However,doctors say that patients still reach out to them for arranging beds.
The graphs below show the number of beds that are available across the two major cities of Maharashtra as of April 8, 2021, the worst affected state. While Pune is looking at a scarcity of beds, the other cities still have beds, though they are depleting rapidly. Officials believe that ramping up COVID-19 facilities is the only way ahead. Maharashtra had scaled up its facilities in 2020 and the government believes that it can do it again.
Oxygen beds are available across most cities which substantiates the state government's claims about them improving services across the state. There are also several patients who are asymptomatic or showing mild symptoms that are isolating at home.
A common trend observed by hospitals located within BMC and PMC boundaries is that most of the beds are also occupied by patients from surrounding satellite towns and cities as well as other cities from the state as well as the country. These beds fall under the overall count that the hospitals can allocate to patients while the allocation of a majority of the beds is looked at by the municipal corporations.
Dr. Deepa Shriyan, Dean at the Dahisar Jumbo COVID Centre highlighted that Dahisar faces a precarious situation as many of the patients admitted at the centre are actually from the Mira-Bhayander, Vasai- Virar municipal corporations. "The panic and the scarcity of beds is induced. While the BMC is ensuring that COVID-19 care can be administered on the basis of where a person stays, people do not want to help the BMC through this geographic plan. If a citizen from Borivali goes and occupies a bed in Mumbai Central, it's obvious that a Mumbai Central resident will see that there are no beds available since the available one has been occupied."
Dr. Shriyan highlighted that the middle class chooses to go to a renowned private hospital over private hospitals in their vicinity and public facilities.
Further emphasising that the private sector participation also has to be increased, Dr. Shriyan stated that pre-pandemic times, the private sector was looking after 60-70% of the health burden. "Through the pandemic, however, most of the burden has been handled by the public health facilities. At the onset and even now, private players could have contributed more beds. Our public hospitals are looking after both COVID and non-COVID illnesses. The private sector also can definitely help further with that."
Echoing that the panic of less beds is more man-made than organic, Dr. Gautam Bhansali, COVID convenor for the private hospitals, said that one person was looking for a bed at 20 hospitals and creating an air of scarcity. "Patients have been calling saying that the ward war room has allocated them a bed within their vicinity but they want to be at one of the hospitals they are accustomed to. Now, they are not only calling me, but also several other doctors for the same and then trying to save beds everywhere."
"We have been battling the pandemic for a year. We are at a better position to know what works and does not so we have amped up facilities, testing, tracing, and treatment. We have plans to increase more facilities. People need to stop believing hearsay, and trust the authorities," Dr. Bhansali concluded.
Dr Shriyan concluded by saying that people should get tested as early as possible as the delay in testing is leading to a surge at hospitals. "After getting vaccinated, people are still travelling and not even getting immediately tested. Within the time they come back, and await till they develop symptoms, they are infecting others. As the test load is increasing, results come in 2-3 days and that increases the chance of them transmitting the virus. If they would test and just follow the rules, the number of people further getting infected, decreases."
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