Nothing seems to be going right for Telangana in its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
On one hand, there is a massive surge in the number of positive cases over the last few days and on the other there is mounting criticism from all corners—from high court to medical professionals and the opposition parties—over its inept handling of the situation.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going back to playing the blame game. At least, that seems to be the mantra for political parties in Telangana. As the opposition BJP leaders have hit the streets to “expose” the government’s “bungling”, the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) leaders have sharpened their counter-attack, directly targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi for failing to help the states in the fight against Covid-19 pandemic.
“The Modi government has done precious little in helping the state to fight the pandemic. Apart from giving calls to the people to clap their hands and light the lamps, it has done nothing,” a combative Medical and Health Minister E Rajender said.
His strident posturing comes in the backdrop of an intensifying blame game between the TRS and BJP leaders over the issue of handling the pandemic.
The NDA government was only paying lip-service without providing the required funds, said Rajender. “We have got only ₹214 crore from the Centre,” he said.
However, the State BJP president Bandi Sanjay has claimed that the Centre provided ₹1,000 crore and said the TRS government owed an explanation to the people as to “where the money was spent.”
The opposition Congress and BJP have stepped up campaign against the government by organising protest rallies in several parts of the state. “It is because of the government’s inefficiency that the coronavirus is spreading,” alleged the state Congress president Uttam Kumar Reddy.
The main criticism of the opposition is focused on poor testing being done in the state. “Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh have conducted over five lakh tests each while Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh have done 3 lakh tests each. How many tests have been conducted in Telangana?” the BJP leader Sanjay questioned.
He wondered why the government was reluctant to ramp up the testing when epidemiologists and medical professionals have been recommending increased testing and contact tracing to check the spread of the virus.
Though the TRS government had been claiming that it procured 10 lakh PPE kits and 10 lakh N-95 masks, the doctors had come out on the streets to protest over the lack of PPEs, he pointed out. “Clearly, the government has failed to protect doctors, other healthcare workers and policemen who are in the forefront of the fight against Covid-19,” Sanjay alleged.
Telangana had recorded 879 Covid-19 cases on Tuesday (June 23), a majority of them in Hyderabad. The state now has 5,110 active cases while the death toll stands at 220.
No ‘indiscriminate’ testing
At present, the state is conducting about 3,400 tests per day. It will be doubled soon. On Tuesday, Telangana conducted about 3,400 tests compared to 20,000 in the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and 25,000 in Tamil Nadu.
Justifying the government’s decision to stick to moderate testing, the IT minister K T Rama Rao remarked that the “indiscriminate” testing could have a negative effect on people’s psyche.
“We cannot afford to create panic among people at this juncture, which will only cripple the healthcare infrastructure, and the patients who are in need of tests might not have an opportunity to get the diagnosis done,” said Rao who is the chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s son.
“We are following the ICMR guidelines on testing,” the Health Minister said. While other states are conducting rapid testing, Telangana is sticking to the real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR) tests.
Row over testing equipment
The government has alleged that the Centre had diverted to other states the Covid-19 testing machines ordered by Telangana. Rajender said that the Telangana government had placed an order with Roche Diagnostics Private Ltd in Mumbai in the first week of June for importing three Cobas 8800 Automated Molecular Systems, each having a capacity of testing 3,500 to 4,000 tests for Covid-19, from Frankfurt, Germany.
The first consignment of the instrument was to be imported by the company on June 8. In the meantime, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) had written to Roche Diagnostics last week, instructing that the instrument be diverted to National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (NICED), Kolkata, immediately, on the pretext of national emergency and pandemic scenario, the health minister claimed.
“We could have conducted more tests if the Centre had not diverted the testing machines. While we had asked for 100 ventilators, they gave us only 50” he said. The minister also blamed ICMR for “frequently changing the guidelines and creating confusion.”
Telangana was the first state in the country to order the COBAS 8800 machine which has the capacity to carry out 3,500 to 4,000 tests per day, he said.