Sikkim is the only state in India that has not reported any coronavirus patients so far at a time when more than 18,000 people across the country have contracted the highly contagious illness, at least 590 have died. The state managed to achieve this feat by staying on alert ever since the county recorded its first case from Kerala in January and following a step-by-step approach to tackle COVID-19, Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang has said.
India's first case of coronavirus was reported from Kerala on January 30. "We have been on alert ever since the first case was reported. February onwards, we started active screening. The entry of international tourists was banned on March 5, and domestic tourists were banned on March 17; state borders were sealed. This strategy has worked," Mr Tamang told NDTV.
Sikkim has screened over 6 lakh people already. Eighty samples that were sent for testing came out to be negative. The nearest lab is North Bengal Medical College and Hospital in Bengal's Siliguri, about 140 km away, so Sikkim would now rely more on rapid testing, the Chief Minister added.
"The credit for the success of our model goes to our frontline workers, our society. The discipline that they (Sikkimese) showed in observing the lockdown is commendable. We have been successful... not a single case COVID-19 reported from the state. We will remain focused on it. We are building our plans for the next phase when the lockdown is lifted," Mr Tamang further added.
While many believe its geography helped Sikkim, the lockdown has come at a huge cost. The biggest source of revenue - tourism - has been hit. "Yes it came at the cost, but saving lives is more important at this time. We will work out ways to see how we can handle livelihood issues," the 52-year-old leader said.
He also showered praise on the pharmaceutical firms based out of Sikkim. "Our firms are producing medicines in full swing. We are meeting the bulk of the requirement," Mr Tamang said.
On Monday, government offices started functioning, select activities were resumed in the northeastern state in line with the central government's guidelines to revive economy that has been badly hit due to the pandemic.
While the extended coronavirus-induced lockdown remains in force till May 3, state government offices opened with one-third of employees reporting for duty on a roster basis, officials concerned said. The state government has allowed the operation of three Sikkim Nationalised Transport (SNT) buses for ferrying government employees on duty.
"We will have to help overcome the effect of the lockdown. That's a challenge. However, we will carry on with a strict screening and rapid testing" the chief minister added.