‘Centre couldn’t even advise, provide guideline for second wave’

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel spoke to Manoj C G on several issues related to the second wave of Covid and the alleged mismanagement of the pandemic. Excerpts:

As a Chief Minister you had dealt with the first wave of the pandemic. How different is the situation now?

There are many differences. In the first wave, the infection was not spreading very fast as it is spreading now. Secondly, the symptoms too have changed…in some cases it is even not getting detected in the RT-PCR test…you get to know in a CT scan…and treatment has also changed…Now oxygen dips suddenly. There is a huge change in the behaviour.

How is Chhattisgarh coping with the surge? There were reports of oxygen shortage.

It is correct that there was a shortage of oxygen in the beginning. But since we have steel plants and all in our state, oxygen is produced. We have given permission to some factories to produce medical oxygen and streamlined the supply system…now there are no complaints of oxygen shortage… we are using 116 MT of oxygen every day…but we are producing about 386 MT…We have been supplying oxygen to Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Telangana…As far as Remdesivir is concerned…it is a fact that there are many complaints…we got 35,000 Remdesivir vials between April 12 to April 17…and we will start getting 20,000 vials per week from tomorrow. We did not allow black marketing…and have started supplying directly to the hospitals. The situation has eased now but there is still shortage as demand will increase as the infection spreads.

Are you facing vaccine shortage?

We have vaccinated 2.35 lakh in one day and 3.36 lakh another day. We have the capacity to vaccinate 4 lakh… We have vaccinated 63 per cent of people between 45 and 60. We have reached saturation levels. So we are asking the Central government to do away with the age limits…because corona has changed the behaviour and people of all ages are getting infected… we cannot be dependent on just two vaccines. Like (former Prime Minister) Manmohan Singh has said…we should ramp up domestic vaccine production and also allow foreign vaccines…because the way the pandemic is spreading…the only hope is the vaccine.

You mentioned Manmohan Singh’s letter. Today Health Minister Harsh Vardhan replied to the letter. He has attacked Congress leaders and Chief Ministers?

See, he holds a responsible position and he should reply responsibly. If somebody gives a suggestion, instead of giving a political reply, he should give a concrete reply…based on facts. Harsh Vardhan-ji should not hide his mistakes and accuse others. He used to accuse us in Chhattisgarh a lot… used to criticise us…because they take suggestions as opposition (virodh)…we are among the top states when it comes to testing. We are taking around 1,700 to 1,800 samples per 10 lakh every day…in BJP-ruled states the number ranges between 500 to 900. The national average is around 1,000. Our death rate is 1.1. In many states it is much higher…we have vaccinated 17 per cent of the population. So they are not looking at the work…they get upset if we give some suggestions. Nobody should give them (the government) any suggestion…they are like Aham Brahmasmi (I am Brahma).

The Health Minister has said that a Congress Chief Minister directly incited people against an indigenously developed vaccine?

I have never said anything. Our Health Minister had raised concerns (over Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin) because the phase three trials were not completed. I myself have taken Covaxin…I have not said a word. Had I raised questions (on the efficacy of the vaccines) how could we have vaccinated 17 percent of our population?… Such remarks only show mental bankruptcy.

Both the Central government and the state government could not anticipate the second wave. Why?

This is the Central government’s mistake. I look at other states to see what is happening… But the Indian government has a bigger vantage point. They look at what is happening globally. So the Indian government should have looked at countries which were hit by the second wave and looked at what are the problems that they are facing, what are the symptoms of the infection, the duration of the treatment….and should have made us aware or advised us… The Indian government itself is exporting Remdesivir, have exported 6.5 crore vaccines…they should have used the vaccine in the country. You are not able to manage your house and are going to help others.

Union Minister Piyush Goyal yesterday asked State governments to keep demand for medical oxygen under control saying demand-side management is as important as supply-side management.

The Indian government could not even advise, provide a guideline for the second wave… I cannot look at Europe sitting in Chhattisgarh. I don’t have that kind of reach but the Indian government has…The Prime Minister kept giving us instances of other countries….how there was a surge and how it waned…we kept listening to his lectures all through the year. But why he didn’t make us aware of the second wave.

Do you think mass congregations during the state elections and events like Kumbh Mela contributed to the surge?

The second wave had come. Many of the countries were facing it. It was said that India too could face the second wave in April/May. The Election Commission should have drawn up the election schedule keeping that in mind. What was the need for eight phases? And the Prime Minister is issuing an appeal after two Kumbh snans to observe it symbolically. He should have said it before…

What is your suggestion as a chief minister to the Central government?

They consider suggestions as opposition (virodh). But since you are asking….my suggestion is increase vaccinations. The protocol for treatment of the second wave is completely different…so the Centre should direct all the states to prepare accordingly and make available resources. Because hospitals are full, ICU beds are full and doctors and health workers are feeling exhausted. They are also humans…

Is lockdown an option?

The people should also follow the protocols… Lockdown is not a solution. It can only decrease the speed of the infection and give the administration some breathing space…