GUWAHATI: Assam will be under lockdown from 6 pm on Tuesday till March 31 in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The decision was taken by Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and announced by state Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma at a press conference.
Essential services like pharmacies, medical, water supply, banking and petrol pumps will be exempted from the purview of the lockdown.
The state border will be sealed and no vehicles, barring those on essential duties, will be allowed, Sarma said.
Even shops selling vegetables, fruits, fish and meat will be closed during the period, he said.
"As this is the financial year-end, so treasury and banks will continue to operate for basic services with a skeletal staff of 10 per cent," Sarma said.
"All religious places will be allowed to remain open with a maximum of three persons at a time."
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Anyone violating the lockdown will be punished with imprisonment of six months for the first instance and two years for the second instance, he said.
The minister informed that no positive case had been reported in Assam so far and a total of 169 samples had been tested, of which 148 had come negative and reports of 21 were awaited.
He said the testing facility would be started at Barpeta and Silchar medical colleges very soon, besides the existing four centres.
Sarma said the eye unit at the Gauhati Medical College and Hospital had been closed and turned into a COVID-19 treatment unit.
"We have shifted all the eye patients to Sri Sankaradeva Nethralaya. We will transform the entire Sonapur Civil Hospital into a COVID-19 treatment facility. We have also in principle decided to transform Mahendra Mohan Choudhury Hospital (MMCH) into a COVID-19 treatment centre," he added.
The health minister said elective surgeries in all state-run medical colleges had been postponed and the OPD facilities restricted to only emergency cases.
"We are currently having 150 beds in ICU with ventilator facilities dedicated for COVID-19 patients. We are trying to augment this, but all major manufacturing units across the world are shut now. This is something beyond our capacity," he added.
Sarma said he would hold discussions with private healthcare providers on Wednesday and explore possibilities to shift all the regular patients of government hospitals to private ones.
In his video conference with the deputy commissioners and superintendents of police to review the situation in the state over COVID-19, Sonowal asked them to closely monitor their respective districts to check coronavirus transmission and ensure complete adherence of the lockdown.
The chief minister asked the DCs and SPs to enforce the lockdown in their respective jurisdiction and put a close monitoring system in place to make all the essential commodities available to the public.
He also asked them to keep a watch on the traders so that there was no hoarding of essential items and spike in the prices of essential commodities.
Sonowal said that the people should maintain self- quarantine, emphasising that the golden protocol to check the transmission of the deadly virus was observance of social- distancing and 'avoidance of all kinds of social gathering.
The chief minister, however, said with cooperation from the people, the severity of the new coronavirus and its fatality could be minimised to a great extent.
Sonowal also asked the DCs to take the help of 'gaon burahs' (village headmen) 'line sardars' (headman) in the tea garden areas and other organisations to generate awareness and make the people understand in details the severity of the virus and the rate at which it spreads from one infected person to others.
On the impact of the lockdown on the state's economy, Sarma said the government is considering various options and will come out with some solutions within the next few days.
"If the lockdown is till March 31, then there will be a limited impact. But if we have to extend it further, then definitely there will be a huge impact. We will try to mitigate as much as we can," said Sarma, also the finance minister of Assam.