Any such complaints against the measures initiated to contain the pandemic was addressed at the spot and steps were taken to ensure that all basic facilities were provided. There were daily meetings which often stretched till midnight or beyond during the initial days of the pandemic
— Dr Sandeep Harshangi, Professor and Head of Pediatrics, Gulbarga Institute of Medical Sciences
In an administration fraught with the good, the bad and the ugly, efficiency of the state's bureaucratic machinery was put to test with the Covid-19 outbreak. Their efforts to prevent cases from spiralling out of control during the first phase of the lockdown had almost flattened the curve in Karnataka, before the cases went upwards after the nationwide lockdown was lifted in May.
Back in March last year, when people were yet to come to grips with the pandemic, authorities in Kalaburagi had their hands full when the first suspected Covid-19 death in Karnataka was reported there.
A priest returning from pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, who had a prior history of asthma, had started exhibiting symptoms of the disease on March 9.
District authorities under its Deputy Commissioner B Sharat arranged for a quarantine facility at the Kalaburagi ESI Hospital. Yet, against medical advice, family members of the priest shifted him to a private facility at Hyderabad. “We had kept track of the family as they were not co-operative initially. We intercepted the body at the Kalaburagi border while they were returning from Hyderabad and sent it for burial as per protocol,” Sharath said.
Three days after his death, lab reports confirmed that it was a Covid-19 death, resulting in the first lockdown in the country. "Since Kalaburagi is a backward region, preparing the people for a pandemic after the first Covid-19 death was very challenging," noted Dr Sandeep Harshangi, Professor and Head of Pediatrics, Gulbarga Institute of Medical Sciences.
What happened next was a series of firsts introduced in the country and state, which became the blueprint for other districts to emulate and successfully curb the spread of the disease.
Among the first challenges was to reduce the people's resistance to measures initiated to stop the disease from spreading. "Any such complaints against the measures initiated to contain the pandemic was addressed at the spot and steps were taken to ensure that all basic facilities were provided. There were daily meetings which often stretched till midnight or beyond during the initial days of the pandemic," Sandeep recalled.
The district was also the first in the country to introduce containment zones, where all houses were subjected to door-to-door surveys and people were tested for symptoms. "When we had finished tracking all primary and secondary contacts, we had to track cases of Tablighi Jamaat," Sharat said. Inaccurate information about the number of attendants from Karnataka and foreign delegates of the convention staying in Karnataka due to the centrally announced lockdown added to the challenge.
During the period, confidence building measures taken up in the districts helped people shed the stigma associated with the disease. Recalling a case, Sharat said that parents of a youth who had returned from Germany had called the Covid helpline of the district and did not let him inside the house, asking him to be quarantined.
"There are also instances where family members motivated their relatives with symptoms to get tested during the initial phases of the pandemic," he said.
One of the key factors that contributed to the success of containing the pandemic in Kalaburagi was that the district administration took inputs from all sections of society and managed the situation efficiently, observed Laxman Dasti, president of Hyderabad Karnataka Janapara Sangarsha Samiti.
Apart from ensuring community participation to curb the disease, the Deputy Commissioner was also at the forefront of arranging logistics, sorting out any differences during supply of essentials and in preventing the spread of misinformation. "He was briefly transferred at the end of April, which was rescinded by the government the same evening," he said, adding that the decision was influenced by his Covid-19 efforts in the district.
Apart from Sharat, the fact that the chief executive officer of Kalaburagi was a qualified doctor helped in making sense of the disease early, according to locals.
Sharat credits the success of Covid-19 containment after the initial outbreak in the district to community participation. "There was awareness at village level about the disease and pro-active testing also helped the disease from spreading during its initial phases," he said.
Such measures by the bureaucratic setup helped people make sense of the viral malady, even as fear of the pandemic along with countless rumours about it made it a challenge.