A lot seems to be wrong with Gujarat’s fight against Covid-19. Cases continue to multiply, with more than 17,000 infections and 1,000 deaths. There are complaints of negligence at the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, one of the largest Covid-19 hospitals in Asia, while the row over the alleged poor quality of Dhaman-1 ventilators, developed by a Rajkot-based company, rages on. Even the expertise of Dr Randeep Guleria, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences director who was flown in a special Air Force plane last month, does not seem to have had an effect.
Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has his back to the wall. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, he talked about the challenges faced by his government and how he plans to tackle them.
Q/How has your government tackled the Covid-19 crisis?
A/Before the first case was reported on March 19, we had screened and quarantined over 20,000 international passengers. A core team was formed and we announced dedicated Covid-19 hospitals in four megacities with a total capacity of 2,200 beds.
As an added measure, we set up Covid-19 hospitals in all districts with a minimum capacity of 100 beds. Gujarat is the first state in the country to set up such dedicated hospitals. We have also collaborated with 31 private hospitals to treat patients. We run 3,500 tests per day; we have tested more than 2.16 lakh people.
Q/Gujarat is one of the top three states in cases and deaths.
A/In Gujarat, a large number of cases [were because of] people who entered the state after attending the Tablighi Jamaat markaz in Delhi. This was a challenge for us, as these people not only hid their travel history but also met a large number of people after returning to Gujarat. A large part of those who returned are in the 600-year-old walled city of Ahmedabad, a densely populated area. In Ahmedabad, 75 per cent of cases have originated from 25 per cent of this area.
The recovery rate in Gujarat is above 45 per cent, which is higher than the national average. It does not matter whether Gujarat is at number three or four. What matters is the strategy adopted by the government to control the spread.
Q/In Tamil Nadu, which has more cases than Gujarat, the death toll is less than 200. In Gujarat, it is more than 1,000. How do you explain this high number of deaths—especially in Ahmedabad?
A/The recovery rate in Gujarat stands at 48.13 per cent, which is higher than the national average. (Around 10,000 patients have recovered, and about 5,800 are being treated now.)
I agree, Ahmedabad has a high mortality rate. But our analysis has revealed that a large number of Covid-19 patients who lost their lives were people aged 60 or above, with co-morbid conditions like blood pressure, hypertension and heart ailments. We also found that a major share of patients were already critical when they were admitted.
Q/Do we have an adequate number of beds in Gujarat?
A/Gujarat has three types of Covid-19 facilities—dedicated hospitals, health centres and care centres. Currently, the state has 133 dedicated hospitals with more than 12,000 beds; there are 2,200 ICU beds and 1,200 ventilators. Additionally, we have 68 dedicated health centres with 4,700 beds and 125 ICU beds.
Q/There are allegations that doctors and paramedics are not being tested, despite many of them showing symptoms.
A/We are following the testing guidelines and protocols prescribed by the Indian Council of Medical Research. Doctors and other medical staff involved in treating Covid-19 patients are provided with all necessary safety apparatus. We have created separate lodging facilities for doctors, nurses and other medical staff who come in contact with patients. In case any of them show symptoms, a complete checkup is conducted, which includes testing, quarantine and treatment.
Q/But why is there a shortage of safety equipment?
A/The state government has sufficient stock. We have also engaged additional manufacturers to increase production capacity. The administration has enough PPE (personal protective equipment) kits for not just government medical staff, but also doctors and medical staff at private clinics and hospitals.
Q/We knew that Dhaman-1 was not efficient. Why did we wait until a few days ago to ask for quality ventilators?
A/We were in talks to produce PPE kits, masks and ventilators in Gujarat. The idea was to get ventilators manufactured immediately, using expertise available within the state. A Rajkot-based firm took up the challenge. They successfully developed a ventilator, and we named it Dhaman-1. The first model is efficient in supplying oxygen; ideal for patients who require a steady supply of oxygen. Dhaman-3, an advanced version, is now ready to be used for treating critical cases. We have 67 patients on ventilator in Gujarat at the moment. We have sufficient high-end ventilators and we are upgrading others in a phased manner.
Q/The Puducherry government has cancelled its order for Dhaman-1. Is Gujarat going to continue using it?
A/The Puducherry government had ordered Dhaman-1 from the Rajkot-based company. However, after the Congress politicised the matter, Puducherry cancelled the orders. It has been done to further the agenda of the Congress, which rules the Union territory.
Q/Spitting in public is a major reason for the spread of Covid-19. Was it advisable to let paan masala and gutkha shops reopen?
A/There are a large number of people earning their livelihoods through these small shops. So a decision was taken to reopen such shops in a phased manner. We have ensured that they are open only for takeaways.
Q/Migrant labourers have gone back to their states. As industries reopen, will there be a shortfall in manpower?
A/A large number of migrant labourers wanted to go home to meet their families. It was an emotional need for them. We understood their concerns and facilitated their journeys by arranging Shramik trains. Gujarat has sent the maximum number of migrants—more than 14.25 lakh—back home through 966 Shramik trains. That is, we have operated one-third of the total trains in India.
There are around 3.25 lakh industrial units that have resumed operations with 27 lakh workers. As of today, industrial electricity consumption in Gujarat has reached 85 per cent of its full consumption capacity of 7,500MW. I am hopeful that, as the situation improves, the migrant labourers will come back and resume work.
Q/What is the action plan to bring Gujarat back on track in six months?
A/A special economic revival committee headed by Hasmukh Adhia has been formed. The committee will submit a comprehensive action plan with necessary inputs within a month. An interim report will be submitted in two weeks. The committee will assess sectoral and sub-sectoral losses and provide necessary measures for revival.
The committee will also review the fiscal and budgetary position of Gujarat and provide suitable suggestions for improvement. This will include revising fiscal deficit estimates and the current tax administration. It will also analyse labour availability and provide recommendations to improve it. It will devise a strategy to create an ambient environment to attract foreign companies looking to relocate their base from other countries.
We have also introduced the Aatmanirbhar Gujarat Sahay Yojana, wherein we provide a loan of up to Rs1 lakh to small traders and self-employed people at a nominal interest rate of 2 per cent. The remaining 6 per cent interest for it will be borne by the state government.
In addition to that, a core committee for Covid-19 conducts regular meetings to assess the situation across Gujarat. I am hopeful that such measures will gradually put Gujarat on the path of fast-paced development in a post-Covid world.