COVID-19: Lessons From Bhilwara

Tanvi Sharma
Bhilwara (File Photo)

Bhilwara (File Photo)

With a population of over 26 lakh, Rajasthan’s textile district- Bhilwara is in focus for successfully containing the COVID-19 pandemic in its initial stages.

From 27 cases in the last week of March, the district reported only one COVID-19 positive case since March 30.

Thirteen COVID-19 patients have fully recovered and 12 negative cases remain under medical observation.

The city reported two deaths — a 73-year-old man and a 60-year-old man but the district administration maintains that the two deaths were not linked to the Coronavirus.

“While one was already in a coma when he was admitted in Banger hospital, the 60-year-old had kidney issues and died due to kidney failure,” informs Bhilwara District Magistrate Rajendra Bhatt.

How A City Triumphed

Rapid assessment, strict clampdown, ruthless containment, dedicated healthcare and complete support from people. Authorities claim these factors helped in making Bhilwara the ‘model to replicate’ in India’s war against COVID-19.

Interestingly, Bhilwara traces all its COVID-19 cases to the city’s well-known Brijesh Banger Memorial hospital.

“On March 19, we received the first case after two doctors at the Banger hospital tested positive for COVID-19 says Dr Mushtaq Khan,” Bhilwara’s Chief Medical Health Officer.

Bhilwara authorities decided to trace all contacts of the two doctors including their family members and patients they treated going back to February.

“The city administration sprung into action without any delay after the first positive reports came,” says Dr Khan who is also a native of Bhilwara.

“Authorities in other cities were tracing COVID-19 cases to people with travel history but our enemy couldn’t be traced thus. The two doctors had treated thousands of patients since February,” says Bhatt, a 2007 IAS officer posted in Bhilwara since December 2018.

Since tracing all the patients linked with the Banger doctors was impossible, Bhatt and his team decided to screen the entire population of the Bhilwara city.

“We were sitting on ticking bomb which could go off any moment.”

Bhilwara’s Five Tasks

The city administration divided the ‘operation’ into five main tasks

· As part of isolating the city, Section 144 was imposed on March 20, a day after the first positive case was reported. The district and city borders were sealed followed by complete halt of all public (railways and road) and private transport. It was eventually declared a No Movement Zone.

· Implementing a strict screening strategy, over 3,000 teams, each led by a healthcare worker, surveyed over 26 lakh people (rural and urban areas) in three phases from March 18-April 3 and identified over 21,000 people with minor flu-like symptoms.

· As a precautionary measure, thousands of people were put into self-quarantine and patients who showed symptoms were admitted to exclusive COVID-19 observation centres. The administration has temporarily taken over 27 hotels, 22 hostels and 4 private hospitals to serve as quarantine and isolation wards. At present over 8,500 people are in quarantine in Bhilwara.

· The Administration also tied up with Gram Panchayats, Block Development Officers to keep constant vigil in the district’s rural areas.

· Other important measures like free home delivery of essentials, food distribution drives for the underprivileged, complete lockdown of non-essential services and factories and 24X7 control rooms were set up.

Bhilwara tested over 2,800 samples for Coronavirus disease and found 27 positive cases. There were 3 doctors and 14 nursing staff. The rest were their patients or attendants – all from the Banger hospital.

“According to the Indian Council of Medical Research, a COVID-19 positive patient can infect 406 people in a month. The cases could have increased beyond imagination if authorities had been lax,” says Dr Khan.

‘BHILWARA MODEL’ in focus 

The Centre has also acknowledged the ‘Bhilwara model’

In meetings with State Government officials, Union Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba suggested it as a possible model to contain the spread of COVID-19

Haryana and Goa authorities are already in touch with the city administration

Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has announced that the ‘Bhilwara Model’ will be replicated in other hotspots of Rajasthan

As of April 9, Rajasthan has 363 positive cases of COVID-19

“We are working non-stop, I go home only for a couple of hours and stay in my room in self-isolation, there is no physical interaction with my wife and 16-year-old daughter,” says Dr Khan

What Next For Bhilwara

Bhilwara is now under ten-day ‘Mahabandh’ until April 13 with even passes of media persons and NGOs revoked. The situation will be re-assessed after that.

Bhatt says locals were initially reluctant to follow the social distancing norms “but understood the severity of the situation when we screened the entire city of four lakh people three times over.”

After working round the clock for almost 10-15 days Bhatt and his team of officials, police, health workers, home guards and volunteers are relaxed but vigilant.

“Bhilwara will not be declared a green zone till we test each of the 8,500 locals who are in self-quarantine”, concludes Bhatt.