Maharashtra’s health sector came under severe strain in 2021, as it faced the onslaught of the ferocious second wave of COVID-19 led by the Delta variant, reporting a record number of daily infections and deaths, and towards the year-end saw the emergence of a high number of Omicron cases.
As Maharashtra struggled to handle the rising COVID-19 cases, it was hit by incidents of fire at some hospitals, claiming lives of several patients and children, which kept the state government and health officials on tenterhooks and raised questions over safety measures in medical facilities.
Earlier this year, the state also reported a large number of cases of mucormycosis, also known as the ‘black fungus’, and patients struggled to get its costly medicines, which were in short supply for some months.On the greener side, Maharashtra was the second state to administer the highest number of vaccines since the nationwide rollout of the inoculation campaign in January, and also earned praise from the Bombay High Court, which recently said the state was “one of the pioneers” in successfully tackling the crisis that arose because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As on December 26, over 11 months since the country started the inoculation drive against COVID-19, Maharashtra had administered 13,10,21,074 doses (including 7,95,56,437 first doses and 5,14,64,637 second doses) — second highest in the country after Uttar Pradesh which tops the list among states and Union Territories.Earlier this year, the Delta variant of COVID-19 triggered the deadly second wave in the country, including Maharashtra, and killed several people daily between March and May.
The state has a high population density in cities like Mumbai, Thane, Palghar, Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad, Nashik, Nagpur, and the rapid virus spread was largely in urban pockets.The second wave was more widespread, not just concentrated to hotspots like Mumbai, Pune and Thane, but touched almost every part of the state.
“During the second wave, the state reported around 60,000 deaths in two months of April and May. Then, cases started declining again. However, if you look at the figures now, the numbers have started increasing again,” state surveillance officer Dr Pradeep Awate told PTI. The Delta strain went on to trigger another wave of infections in other parts of the world until the recent emergence of the Omicron variant.Till December 27, a total of 167 cases of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 were detected in the state.
As the year comes to an end, dealing with the pandemic has been a mixed bag for healthcare officials and the Maharashtra government. If the first wave taught some hard-learnt lessons, the second wave made dealing with it more resilient.But in the New Year, the challenge lies in tackling Omicron, which initial studies suggest transmits faster than the Delta and other variants and escapes immunity generated by vaccines.
Dr Awate said it appears that though the new variant does spread faster, there have been little hospitalisations.”We hope this trend continues. If this happens, Omicron will act as a natural vaccination and may help in its (COVID-19) progression towards the endemic stage,” he said.
Like last year, Maharashtra was one of the states that consistently reported the highest number of COVID-19 cases during its second wave which saw a massive surge in infections from March to May this year.According to the health ministry data, from February 19 to April 28, Maharashtra contributed the highest daily infections to the country’s COVID-19 tally.
Between February 18 to March 3, the state reported 48.5 per cent of the total cases in the country; rising to 59.5 per cent between March 4 an 17, and 60 per cent between March 18 and 31. Between April 1 and 14, it reported 43.2 per cent of the total cases in the country and 21.6 per cent between April 15 and 28.
Unlike last year, to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus infection, the state did impose restrictions, but not as harsh as seen during the first wave.However, there was opposition from the business community and officer-goers in Mumbai as well as its satellite cities as travel by local trains was restricted.
As cases spiralled, especially between March and May, many people even struggled to secure admission in hospitals as health facilities were overwhelmed with patients.There were also reports of alleged deaths due to lack of oxygen supply — from Palghar and Nashik, but the state government ruled it out.
The state government also faced flak over the death of a number of patients in fires at hospitals in Ahmednagar, Buldhana, Palghar and at a mall in Mumbai.While there were reports of alleged deaths due to lack of oxygen supply in other states, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) was lauded by the Supreme Court for oxygen management during the second wave.But, like other parts of the country, a number of people in the state struggled to secure critical medicines, like Remdesivir and Tocilizumab injections.
Earlier this year, Maharashtra was one of the non-BJP-ruled states which targeted the Centre over shortage of vaccines during the peak of the second wave of the pandemic.The ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi in Maharashtra — comprising the Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP — had accused the Centre of not providing adequate doses to the state. Some Maharashtra ministers also accused the Union government of prioritising BJP-ruled states over Maharashtra.
Refuting the charge, the then Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan had lashed out at Maharashtra and some other states, accusing them of trying to cover their “failures” in containing the pandemic by making “deplorable” attempts through “irresponsible” statements to distract attention and spreading panic among people.
Amid the rise in COVID-19 cases again, Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope recently said fresh lockdown will be imposed in the state only if the demand for medical oxygen touches 800 metric tons per day.The state government recently banned assembly of more than five persons in public places between 9 pm to 6 am and restricted the number of people allowed at public functions.