Assam: Caution to the wind

Political rallies and official functions, along with large gatherings at UIDAI centres for government assistance, are hampering the State’s progress in containing the outbreak.

Published : Oct 26, 2020 06:00 IST

Graduates waiting to get registered at the employment exchange in Guwahati on August 28.

Graduates waiting to get registered at the employment exchange in Guwahati on August 28.

Assam witnessed a sharp rise in COVID-19 fatalities in September and the first two weeks of October, while the total number of positive cases was close the 2 lakh mark. As on October 12, the State had recorded a total of 826 fatalities and 1,95,304 positive cases. Assam recorded its first COVID-19 death on April 10. The number of fatalities during the 143 days from April 10 until August 31 was 306, or 37 per cent of the total number of deaths to date. The subsequent 42 days until October 12 accounted for 63 per cent of all fatalities so far. Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told mediapersons on October 13 that if the cases of recovered COVID-positive persons who succumbed to comorbidities were considered, the total number of COVID-related fatalities would be around 1,800.

Altogether, 391 deaths were recorded in September and 123 in the first 12 days of October. The death rate increased from 0.28 per cent on August 31 to 0.42 per cent on October 12. Until August 31, the State had recorded 1,09,040 cases. The recovery rate improved from 78.37 per cent on August 31 to 85 per cent on October 12, while the doubling time increased to 46.4 days from 38.2 days on September 30.

Durga puja

Himanta Biswa Sarma claimed that the test results post October 6 showed that the positivity rate has declined steadily, indicating that flattening of the pandemic curve had begun in the State. However, he added that strict adherence to the standard operating procedure (SOP) issued by the Health and Family Welfare Department for celebration of Durga Puja would be critical to sustain it.

The Health Minister said that the four days of Durga Puja in the third week of October would be crucial in managing the COVID-19 situation in the State. He also said that the Central government had asked the State government to remain prepared for administering vaccines during the January-July period next year. In the first batch, frontline workers and individuals above 60 years of age would be given the vaccine whenever it is made available, he added.

Also read: COVID-19 Update | West Bengal: Puja in the time of pandemic

The SOP includes mandatory rapid antigen tests for priests and Puja committee functionaries on the eve of the four-day Puja festivities and again on the fifth day, obtaining permission from the district administration concerned for organising the Puja, and observation of safety protocols. Also, there would be a ban on pillion riding on motorbikes for men, while organising cultural programmes and gathering of more than 50 persons inside Puja pandals would be prohibited.

The State is poised to witness a surge in social and political activities in the next few months. The Puja festivities will be followed by a proposed reopening of schools from November 1. The State Cabinet has also decided to request the State Election Commission to conduct the deferred elections to the Bodoland Territorial Council in December.

Party rallies, official functions

The State government has also been organising a number of foundation stone-laying ceremonies and official functions to launch flagship schemes. Less than five months are left for the model code of conduct for the 2021 Assembly election to come into force, which has prompted the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition government to go on a foundation stone-laying spree. Political parties, both ruling and opposition, have started organising large rallies of party workers in different parts of the State.

However, participants rarely observe the safety protocols, as a result of which these rallies have become potential COVID hotbeds spreading the infection.

Also read: COVID-19 Update | Odisha: A decreasing trend

Unique Identification Authority India (UIDAI) centres across the State have been witnessing long queues of potential beneficiaries of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and applicants for Aadhaar enrolment, which has triggered fears of the infection spreading as most persons do not adhere to the physical distancing norms and other safety protocols such as wearing face masks.

Aadhaar has been linked to the flagship scheme for availing Central assistance of Rs.1.50 lakh by eligible families belonging to Economically Weaker Section and Low-Income Group categories for construction of new houses or improvement of existing houses.

Plasma donation

So far, 1,551 persons who have recovered from the COVID infection have donated their plasma. Of them, 925 donated to Gauhati Medical College and Hospitals (GMCH), 220 to the plasma bank of Silchar Medical College and Hospital, 175 to the Assam Medical and Hospital in Dibrugarh and 99 to the Tezpur Medical College and Hospital.

“All patients admitted to the medical colleges of Assam are given free remdesivir and plasma infusion. For requisition of plasma by private hospitals to GMCH blood bank, we need replacement plasma and Rs.10,000 as cost of the plasma apheresis kit,” GMCH Superintendent Dr Abhijit Sarma told Frontline.

National Health Mission, Assam, on October 9 floated an e-tender notice inviting bids for the supply of 50,000 vials of 100 mg/vial remdesivir injections as “essential COVID drugs” on an “urgent basis”. The injectable drug is meant for “restricted emergency use” on moderate and high-risk COVID patients on oxygen support.

Also read: COVID-19 and the danger of complacency

The Health Department on July 28 imposed a restriction on collection and transfusion of convalescent plasma by private nursing homes, private blood banks or privately owned institutions to “prevent misuse of the life-saving plasma during collection and transfusion”.

In its order, the Department claimed that “treatment of COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms with convalescent plasma has proved effective and life-saving in many cases”.

In a subsequent order on August 29, the Department stated that in case of collection of plasma from a government blood bank for transfusion to a COVID-19 patient, private hospitals would have to bear the cost of the plasma apheresis kit. On October 5, the department fixed the cost at Rs.10,000 for each unit of convalescent plasma in case of collection of plasma from a government blood bank by a private hospital for transfusion to a COVID-19 patient.

The State has ramped up testing, targeting an average of 30,000 tests a day, and has completed close to 40 lakh tests so far. These include 6 lakh tests completed in Guwahati city, which has a population of about 10 lakh.

The absolute number of fatalities and positive cases in the past six weeks sounded a caution against complacency amid a rise in the recovery rate and an increase in the doubling time.

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