In Chhattisgarh, the early preparedness in the wake of Covid-19 outbreak led the state to move on with infection prevention and control to an appreciable extent by assigning a top priority to the health sector. There has been no coronavirus deaths reported in the 10th largest state of the country as the readiness with the apt response actions worked for the state. Out of the 57 positive cases so far, 36 have been cured. The state health minister Tribhuwaneshwar Saran Singhdeo in an interview with Ejaz Kaiser, elucidated how Chhattisgarh got into action mode by presuming the coronavirus spread as pandemic even before the nation perceived.
Q. The COVID-19 positive cases in Chhattisgarh remains low since the beginning. How do you read the prevailing situation?
We proactively traced people coming to the state since last week of January, tested them beyond the protocol provided by the ICMR or the Centre as we speculated it's going to be pandemic, which was declared later. We presumed it might spread throughout the world when it was happening in China during early January. So we were not waiting and got engaged remaining attentive to the opinions of the experts. We were, of course, lucky for not too many people coming from abroad to the state and carrying the deadly virus.
Q. Is India bracing for tough times countering the coronavirus crisis?
I call it a strategic mistake when the country was not prepared. The attitude — “when it comes then we will see” speaks of laxity. Even the earlier protocols of the Centre appeared quite conservative. In Chhattisgarh, we consciously tried to stay ahead that helped us. At one point of time, we had over 90,000 people quarantined. Our first purchase order for the test kits was given as early as January 13.
Q. How demarcation into red, orange or green zones working for Chhattisgarh? 21 out of the 28 districts remain under the green zone.
The government has to see everything. What should come first — life or work. What should be the priority? The contagious disease shouldn’t merely be treated as an ailment that comes and goes. The reality is that there is no cure for coronavirus and we don’t know much about how it's going to spread. But we have the choice to prevent it. Countries that thought they will stave off the crisis didn’t impose lockdown. European countries and the US perhaps didn’t anticipate they would be hit so hard. Presuming that they would tide over it and nothing going to happen was one big mistake.
Q. Most of the Covid-19 cases are from urban or semi-urban areas. Do you see any challenge particularly in the context of the rural segment?
Nothing should be out of the blue. We know there is no cure as of now and secondly, an element of uncertainty persists. Red, orange or green colours put on the map demarcates district-wise mapping of the country. But for me its red, orange or yellow in Chhattisgarh, and purposefully I will not hold or assume any district on to green zone since 80 per cent of those who may catch the virus are going to be asymptomatic if the experts are to be believed. Another theoretical presumption is potential risk remains for around 20-60 per cent of India's 25-80 crore population. In the context of Chhattisgarh, our team of experts arrived on the assumption that 30 per cent of the 3 crore population of Chhattisgarh may be affected. Even if not being so apprehensive and going by just 10 per cent then also it's going to be 30 lakh, which is quite high. So, we need to be prepared. Self protective mechanism in rural areas is good.
Q. Now the lockdown further extended till May 17.
When we don’t have enough testing facilities, adequate protective kits or testing materials and the supporting mega set-up, the only option remains is lockdown. Lockdown is a training period that makes you adopt essential habits such as social/physical distancing, washing hands with soaps for 20 seconds, wearing mask among other things. The coronavirus is going to stay for at least 6 months to 2 years, as the experts have affirmed. So when the relaxation starts, we need to be extra cautious.
Q. There was an apparent spurt on hate sentiments, blaming a religious group for the outbreak of coronavirus even in Chhattisgarh. How do you react to this?
Leave aside coronavirus, at any point of time such mentality is unhealthy and perilous for humanity, for the country and for any social setup. And at such a crucial juncture it never augurs well for our country to create a wedge in the society. It can make the task tougher and the situation might exacerbate. We took the religious leaders into confidence telling them not to feel guilty and there is nothing to hide. If any segment gets victimised then its the responsibility of other community, no matter whosoever, to come forward seeking corrective measures and speak out against such ill-natured actions in tandem with the administration.
Q. Are you also engaging private health professionals?
Today it’s the government hospital, its doctors and staff who are standing with the people. I feel delighted for being associated with such people. The private practitioners have not yet come forward on executed lines in the present scenario. That was a little disappointing. Perhaps owing to a sense of fear or uncertainty or whatsoever. Being much knowledgable and with a high level of expertise, they should have delivered their greater role. We are trying to seek support from more and more qualified doctors.