COVID-19 Update: ASSAM

Assam: Rapid rise in COVID-19 cases

Print edition : May 21, 2021

A quarantine centre gets ready in Guwahati on April 19. Photo: RITU RAJ KONWAR

A quarantine centre gets ready in Guwahati on April 19. Photo: RITU RAJ KONWAR

An exponential growth in the number of new infections in all the districts prompts the government to double up pandemic management measures even as a strong earthquake on April 28 puts more pressure on it.

ASSAM has reported a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases with a rapid rise in the test positivity rate (TPR) in the ongoing second wave of infection. The active caseload has increased from 537 cases on April 1 to 23,104 on April 29. According to the bulletin issued by the National Health Mission (NHM), Assam has recorded 176 COVID-19 deaths in 29 days since April 1. The TPR increased from 0.47 per cent on April 1 to 4.58 per cent on April 29. The highest single-day casualty figure of 26 was logged on April 29. The health authorities have confirmed detection of the double mutant variant as well as the United Kingdom variant of the virus in the State.

The occurrence of a powerful earthquake of 6.4 magnitude on the Richter scale on April 28 and a series of aftershocks gave rise to new worries for an already overstretched administration and put more pressure on the emergency response teams engaged in COVID-19 management. At least 10 persons were injured and two died of shock following the earthquake. Residential and government buildings in Guwahati city and several towns were damaged raising concerns about the safety of their occupants. Sand and water gushed out of cracks that appeared in paddyfields near Dhekiajuli in Sonitpur district, the epicentre of the quake, said to be the strongest in six decades. Several roads and railway bridges developed cracks. The Assam State Disaster Management Authority put troops of the National Disaster Response Force and the State Disaster Response Force on high alert.

In a bid to contain the surge in COVID cases, the State government, on April 20, ordered all shops and marketplaces to remain closed from 6 p.m. Night curfew was imposed from April 27until May 1 to break the chain.

On April 27, the State government authorised all Deputy Commissioners to order the closure of educational institutions across all levels, hostels and coaching centres when the cumulative number of cases over 10 days exceeded 300. For Kamrup (Metropolitan) district, the limit was fixed at 1,000 cases in a single day, and, accordingly, all educational institutions in Guwahati city and other areas of the district were closed for 15 days from April 26.

The cumulative death toll in Assam on account of COVID-19 in the first and the current wave has gone up to 1,281. NHM authorities are yet to update the data on deaths owing to comorbidities and complications associated with COVID. The death toll of the second category of COVID positive persons in the first wave, according to NHM bulletins, was 1,347.

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From April 19 to April 29, Kamrup (Metropolitan) district recorded the highest number of 9,286 cases, indicating a sharp rise in the rate of infection in Guwahati city and its outskirts, followed by Dibrugarh district with 1,722 cases. Several districts reported over 100 cases daily. Hospitals are getting saturated owing to the rising number of cases.

Of the 2,120 beds available for COVID patients in the State, 1,852 beds were occupied until April 26. This prompted the Health and Family Welfare Department to rush to arrange for more beds with oxygen support to meet emergency needs. Efforts are on to set up 254 beds equipped with oxygen supply in the car parking area of Guwahati Medical College and Hospital by the first week of May.

Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma stated in a tweet that 23,34,513 vaccine doses had been administered in the State until April 29. These included 18, 34,673 first doses and 4,99,840 second doses. The total number of vaccines in stock as on April 30 morning was 6,65,520, which was expected to last for about a week. The State also has a stock of 25,000 Remdesivir injection vials of which 2,500 are earmarked for private hospitals and 1,000 for people from Assam residing in other States. The government has fixed the price of each Remdesivir injection at Rs.1,568, including GST, for COVID patents in private hospitals.

Vaccination for the 18-44 age group would be free, the State government announced, but the process is not likely begin in the first week of May as payments to vaccine manufacturers will be possible only after the installation of the new government. Sarma announced that the government would utilise Rs.118 crore deposited in the Assam Arogya Nidhi, the fund raised during the first wave of pandemic through donations by individuals and organisations, for buying vaccines for the 18-44 age group. The State spent Rs.1,200 crore during the first wave.

Health experts have attributed the rise in the number of cases to the flouting of COVID norms of masking up and maintaining physical distance during election rallies and the Rongali Bihu functions, besides daily gatherings in public places such as markets. The Health Minister came under flak for declaring during the election campaign that there was no COVID-19 infection in the State and there was no need to wear the face mask. The three-phase Assembly election was held on March 27, April 1 and April 6, after which the Rongali Bihu festivities took place in mid-April.

Home quarantine mandatory

On April 21, the government decided to make seven days of home quarantine mandatory for all passengers arriving by flights and trains from outside the State even if the result of the COVID test undergone on arrival was negative. In addition to testing of passengers at all airports and railway stations, COVID screening has been made mandatory at Srirampur and Chagolia check posts on the Assam-West Bengal boundary for passengers and occupants of trucks. Home quarantine committees have been constituted in villages, urban localities and apartment complexes with authorisation to file a complaint with the police if anyone violated home quarantine.

A 430-bed CcOVID care centre has become functional at Sarusajai Stadium in Guwahati. Another 1,000-bed centre is coming up on a private university campus in the city.

Sarma claims that the State has a surplus of oxygen with 10 oxygen plants fully operational. The daily production of oxygen has increased to 67.8 tonnes against the daily requirement of 20 tonnes. The State has expanded its oxygen storage capacity to 468 tonnes.

Also read: How Assam threw caution to the wind during the first wave

The work on setting up intensive care units in 24 district hospitals was started under the Assam Critical Care project following the first wave of the pandemic. In September 2020, the Health Department recruited 1,000 staff nurses and 215 ICU technicians. They are being trained at the existing ICU units of medical colleges in the State so that they can be deployed in in district hospitals.

Following the rapid increase in cases in all districts, there is a growing demand to postpone the Class X board examination conducted by the Board of Secondary Education, Assam, and the Class XII examination conducted by the Assam Higher Secondary Education Council. The examinations are scheduled to start on May 11. Sarma, who is also the Education Minister, told mediapersons that it would be for the new government to decide on the conduct of the examinations. Keeping two key decisions, the actual date of rolling out vaccination for the 18-44 age group and the postponement of board examinations, pending says a lot about the political power play in the offing and the challenges before the new government.

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