12/10/2020 7:46 PM IST

‘We Don’t Want To Underreport Deaths’: Punjab’s Chief Secretary On State’s High Fatality Rate

Vini Mahajan on Punjab’s prolonged surge in Covid-19 cases and the facilities at designated Covid hospitals.

Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh flagging off a Corona testing mobile clinic and ambulance

Punjab, which has now recorded close to 130,000 reported cases of Covid-19, has been raising concerns over its high fatality rate of more than 3%, almost twice that of the national average. It has even topped the global average. 

Vini Mahajan, Punjab’s first woman chief secretary, says that the surge in cases in Punjab is longer than that of other states due to the high number of elderly people in the state.

“It has been established in a survey conducted by the health department and central agencies that every third person in Punjab suffers from at least one non-communicable disease, including hypertension, diabetes, cancer, obesity, etc,” said Mahajan in an interview with HuffPost India.

The 1987-batch IAS officer also spoke about the lack of facilities in many Covid-designated hospitals and why Punjab has stopped pasting notices outside the homes of patients and those in home quarantine, a move followed by Delhi as well. 

Edited excerpts: 

Rachna Khaira/HuffPost India
Punjab Chief Secretary Vini Mahajan

This month, Punjab’s Case Fatality Rate (CFR)  for SARS-COV-2 patients peaked to 3%, which was almost twice that of the country (1.6%) and even ahead of the global fatality rate. At a time when the CFR is falling across India and globally, why is Punjab showing an upward trend?

We have seen that every state in the country has reported a peak in coronavirus cases at some point of time. In Punjab, this surge has become a little longer as the state has a high number of elderly people. A survey conducted by the state health department and central agencies have established that every third person in Punjab suffers from at least one non-communicable disease, including hypertension, diabetes, cancer, obesity, etc. Above all, people are still reluctant to come out and get themselves tested for coronavirus and report only once their condition gets critical.

HuffPost India found while visiting various private hospitals in the last few days that the majority of the hospitals allotted Covid beds do not have ventilators, 24x7 pharmacies or even dedicated doctors in Covid wards. Also, they do not have a daily garbage disposal system. In some hospitals, some of the oxygen points were also found to be non-functional. Has the state not mandated any criteria for allocating Covid beds to such hospitals?

 In the beginning, we were not aware as to how serious the situation will become once the cases would reach its peak. Since the state also has a high number of NRIs who during that time were on a visit back home, it was an alarming situation.  To combat the sudden and unmeasurable danger, we had to designate various hospitals even with limited resources for Covid care.

For example, there were patients who were critical and needed ventilator support. But there were also patients who were asymptomatic but suffering from acute anxiety and wanted to remain in the hospital as a safety measure. To cater to the needs of such patients, we had designated different hospitals for different purposes. While there are hospitals that do not have a 24x7 pharmacy or a dedicated doctor for Covid wards, they should have a proper garbage disposal system in place. We have asked the private hospitals to join the network of our central Covid monitoring team comprising of health experts from USA and make use of their expertise while treating Covid patients.

Has there been any attempt by state health agencies to check on patients being given steroids to combat coronavirus in private hospitals?

It is a well-known fact that such steroids given to combat coronavirus infection do sometimes increase the blood sugar and blood pressure in patients, but we just cannot overlook the coronavirus infection in them which may prove fatal in critical cases. As a matter of fact, we are following the guidelines of ICMR and do not want to under-report the coronavirus infections or deaths in the state. The doctors who administer these drugs to coronavirus patients are aware of the consequences and are prepared to deal with them anyway.

Recently, Punjab has stopped pasting warning stickers outside the houses of coronavirus patients and also those in home quarantine. Can you tell us why this was done?

Despite all the awareness, coronavirus infection is still considered a taboo amongst the people. People, despite experiencing symptoms, prefer to stay at home and report only after they develop complications. Also, we have arrived at a situation where we expect that every one in 10 people have been infected with corona and so have little chance to get infected again. The need of the hour is to encourage those who were left out to come forward for testing without having the fear of being stigmatised and to help in tracing their contacts. For this, we have also asked all the deputy commissioners in the state to at least trace 10 people for every positive case. We have recently introduced a drive-in testing facility in various districts where people can get themselves tested while sitting in their vehicles. The response is quite encouraging.

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