A three-member panel of experts, which had come to Jammu to ascertain the cause for the high mortality rate in the division, attributed the surge in deaths to Covid-inappropriate behaviour and the presence of three virulent strains from the UK, South Africa and India (B.1.617) in the region.
The team comprised Dr Mahesh Waghmare, deputy director (microbiology), National Centre for Disease Control, Delhi; Dr. Pranay Kumar Verma, deputy director of the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) at the National Centre for Disease Control, Delhi; and Dr Navneet Sharma of PGIMER, Chandigarh.
Waghmare said, “While the lockdown will definitely help contain the virus, Covid-apt behaviour is indispensible. We found that people were not following the norms stringently, which has led to the high positivity and mortality rate in the region. Earlier, the region had the South African and UK variants and now we also have the highly infectious Indian variant as well.”
Delay in hospitalisation contributing to high fatality rate
The team found that the mortality rate within 24 hours of hospitalisation was 30% while 12% patients were being brought dead to hospitals. “This shows people are reaching hospitals at a very late stage, which is contributing to the high mortality,” Waghmare said.
The Indian variant is primarily responsible for the surge in cases in Jammu division, said experts. In March, the UK variant was found in 60% of the 434 samples sent for genome sequencing. In April, it dropped to 47% while the B.1.617 variant’s prevalence increased from 5.8% to 38%. The Indian variant has now overtaken UK strain in Jammu division. Experts suspect that the Indian strain is now contributing to at least 50% cases.
Waghmare conceded that the government was ill-prepared for the sudden surge and there were insufficient critical care beds in the region. He suggested strict police patrolling during concession hours to check overcrowding and ensure Covid-appropriate behaviour. “Both preventive and curative aspects have to be adhered to in earnest but the greater responsibility lies with the people,” he added.
“We may be lacking in infrastructure but we are augmenting it. Doctors and paramedics are on the job 24×7. Following sudden spike in deaths, a massive door-to-door sampling has also been initiated in Jammu,” a local official said.