Outside the trauma centre of King George’s Medical University in Lucknow is a triage area of sorts with around 20 beds and some basic medical equipment. This is where every Covid protocol in the book vanishes the minute a patient is wheeled in — there is no restriction on movement, no one is questioned or scanned for temperature, and social distancing is rendered meaningless.
With 1,50,676 active cases, the second highest in the country, behind only Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh’s already frail health infrastructure is stretched further. Most hospitals in Lucknow are reporting acute shortage of ICU and ventilator beds.
Sitting on one of the beds at the triage is Lucknow resident Vikas Verma, 38. Having tested positive for the coronavirus, Verma says he has been waiting for two days for a bed in the hospital’s Covid ward that has around 520 beds — 427 ICU and 133 with ventilators.
“After I developed breathing problems, I came here. Since then, I have only got an oxygen mask. The hospital authorities say they will shift me when a bed is available,” he says.
On the bed next to him is Sarla Awasthi, 70, who has tested positive. Her son Vaibhav Awasthi, a farmer from Lucknow’s Mohalalganj, says, “After my mother started developing breathing problems, I took her to five different private hospitals but they all said that they had no ventilators to spare. I finally brought her here, but now her oxygen level is dropping and she desperately needs an ICU bed. I don’t know what to do. Just an hour ago, this room was filled with people sobbing and crying. This makes my heart sink.”
A KGMU official at the registration counter confirmed that in the absence of more beds, they have clear instructions to recommend home isolation to those who test positive, or to refer them to other medical facilities.
“We do not have any more beds. If we have oxygen available, and the patient needs it, we try to provide that,” he said, confirming that for the last couple of days, there have been more than 50 patients queuing up for a bed.
While Lucknow had 3,138 active cases at the end of March this year, by Friday, April 16, that number had shot up to 40,753, which is more than 27 per cent of the state’s caseload. Moreover, out of the 1.33 lakh people who tested positive in the district since the start of the pandemic, 48,014 tested positive in the first 16 days of the present month.
When asked about the surge in numbers in Lucknow, a government official said the high testing rate was one of the reasons, along with the fact that several Covid positive patients come here from other parts of the state.
On Thursday, CM Adityanath directed authorities to increase the number of dedicated Covid hospitals in Lucknow, and declare KGMU and Balrampur hospital as Covid-only set-ups. With that, Lucknow will now have more than 10 dedicated Covid hospitals. The CM also announced the setting up of a new 1,000-bed Covid hospital in Lucknow.
KGMU spokesperson Sudhir Singh confirmed that the number of Covid beds is expected to go up from 520 to 3,000 beds by Monday.
The CM has also ordered that a case under the Pandemic Act be registered against those turning away patients sent on the recommendations of district magistrates and chief medical officers.
However, with Lucknow reporting more than 5,000 daily cases on an average, around half of them symptomatic, and patients coming from several neighbouring districts, the situation is unlikely to get better any time soon.