The world is in the midst of tackling one of the biggest pandemics in recent history and a cure for which remains elusive. A China-originated virus has spread rapidly to about 200 countries and territories. As I write this, the cases of coronavirus cases have crossed more than a million globally, with more than 70,000 reported deaths since the start of January. However, as of now, India has managed to largely contain the virus spread considering how densely populated our nation is. Barring the oversight of the Delhi Police in allowing the Tablighi Jamaat event despite the instruction of the government to not allow large gatherings in Delhi, the lockdown has helped reduce the impact of spread in India compared to other countries. Incidentally, a similar event but on a much larger scale was to take place in Maharashtra too, but the alertness of the state government, Home Minister and police saw permission for the Tablighi gathering being cancelled, keeping in mind the COVID spread. The steep increase recorded yesterday across the nation reinforces the need for ensuring lesser crowding in public places and is a reminder to test more and prepare more to identify and tackle positive cases.
On March 24, the Prime Minister, ordered a midnight national lockdown which led to confusion in large parts of the country. The panic and lack of clarity made people crowd stores that were selling essentials; in doing so, they dumped the social distancing advice. The Maharashtra Chief Minister conducted an immediate Facebook Live interaction at 10:30 pm to calm the people of the state and reassure them that it was no different from the lockdown announced by him 48 hours earlier and there was no reason to crowd places. The PM's announcement also led to an immediate panic-driven exodus in states that have a large migrant population; Chief Ministers also got to know of the lockdown through Prime Minister's address to the nation and not earlier. The country was witness to heart-breaking images and stories being reported from states like Delhi and Rajasthan.
Maharashtra, which also has a large migrant population, was amongst the first states to announce a lockdown; it sealed borders two days before the central government announcement. After the lockdown announcement, the state saw an initial rush at train stations. Chief Minister Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray immediately assured daily wage and migrant workers that the state would look after them and they should stay where they were. This ensured that all cooperated with the government to avoid crowding public places.
The Maharashtra state leadership has been widely appreciated for leading from the front and being better prepared to tackle the pandemic; from February itself, the Chief Minister called this a humanitarian crisis and not a political one, one in which all sections of society would have to come together to battle it out. The Chief Minister after consultations with his cabinet colleagues immediately delegated responsibilities at all levels - panchayat, corporations, districts, assemblies and wards. He then brought the best minds in administration to head the CMO Task Force. He pooled all resources available to the state through corporates, NGOs, various wings of administration and local authorities. He leveraged technology to communicate instantly with the people of the state, quash rumours/fake news, respond, resolve and help those who were seeking it - whether it was other heads of state, elected representatives of states or citizens reaching out. The Municipal Corporation of Mumbai has every single ward on social media platforms so they become the first respondents. All this was being done without malice, bias or to score political points. The state took many positive and proactive measures - the Labour Commission sent a letter to all employers not to retrench staff, all the MLAs and ministers were told to take salary cuts, official WhatsApp number was launched to get real time help and information along with helplines to assist those who were seeking help to cope with COVID-related stress and to assist all migrants, plus a Twitter handle to streamline response faster and avoiding duplication of work by multiple agencies.
Unfortunately, not everyone understands the complexity of the crisis, hence some sections have been questioning and criticizing the high numbers reported in Maharashtra. Such negativity has not deterred the government from doing what is needed, including supporting the central government in all its efforts, sharing inputs with the Prime Minister and seeking suggestions from MLAs across board. It would do well for such keyboard warriors to look at best practices being followed internationally to control spread. The "Test, Trace, Track and Treat" method has proved successful in ensuring positive cases are treated on priority. Maharashtra is testing 20 percent of what the entire nation is testing and continues to add more test centres, with Mumbai alone having tested over 12,000 suspects.
In the first wave of testing, high risk and suspect cases were tested of which less than 5% of these cases turned out positive. Of the 870 patients that have tested positive, approximately 70% were asymptomatic, requiring isolation and quarantining, not hospitalisation. Approximately 20% of the cases have reported mild symptoms that can be handled through medication, about 10% have required ventilators and ICU support with approximately 5% mortality rate. 70 of those tested positive have fully recovered.
The second step in tackling this medical challenge is preparedness in case of a spike in cases; again the Maharashtra government has been on top of things with identifying hospitals, partnering with private hospitals and corporate houses to help with critical medical supplies. The local governments in major cities especially in Mumbai have been ensuring zones that have been identified with higher cases are disinfected, isolated and test capacities increased. The state government has, through video conferencing, briefed them as well as taken updates on the ongoing work.
From the perspective of humanitarian help, the state government has set up 4,653 camps for sheltering 4,54,142 interstate and inter-district migrant workers from various sectors of industry and infrastructure.
Coronavirus is a battle we are determined to win in Maharashtra. While it isn't the time to pat ourselves on the back as the battle still rages, it is important to acknowledge the efforts and steps taken by the state and lakhs of workers involved in this effort.
(Priyanka Chaturvedi is Member of Rajya Sabha and Deputy Leader Shiv Sena)
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