By Sagarneel Sinha
During the times of the pandemic, the topmost priority of the governments has been to tackle the covid-19 virus. The same applies to the new Assam government led by Himanta Biswa Sharma formed a month ago. Although the BJP returned to power, the chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal was replaced by Himanta, who started his innings by constituting a new cabinet, a mixture of old and new faces.
At the same time, the second wave of the virus was at its peak. The immediate challenge of the government was to contain the virus, which this time was spreading faster than during the first wave. Significantly, the virus during the second wave has been more deadly in the state.
During the first wave last year, Assam, despite having a poor healthcare system, received accolades for its ability to contain the virus. The then health minister Himanta, who now heads the second BJP government of the state, took efforts to improve the healthcare system of the state. The efforts taken ensured the improvement of the state’s healthcare infrastructure considerably. The state now has a new health minister — Kesab Mahanta, working president of AGP, an ally of BJP.
However, after the decline of the first wave in the state last year, people developed complacency. Not only this, as the state went to elections this year, there were rallies, including huge ones, in all districts of the state organised by the ruling BJP led NDA, Congress led Grand Alliance and by the regional AJP-Raijor Dal alliance. It would be a blatant lie to say that all these election rallies had nothing to do with the surge of the covid-19 cases in the state. To be fair, the surge of cases in the state crossing 1000 daily happened almost two weeks after the end of the election campaign. Although the number of returning migrants is far smaller this time, there is no doubt that these migrants played a role in bringing in the mutant virus to the state.
Nevertheless, the prime concern of the new government was to curb the spread of the virus. Just a month ago, according to covidtoday.in, the state’s positivity rate peaked at 8.87 per cent. Not only this, less than a month ago, the state was reporting over 6000 daily cases. Presently, the daily cases are down to less than 4000 while the positivity rate has declined to 2.92 per cent. The significant decline of the positivity rate shows that the state administration is working vigorously to curb the virus from further spreading. That the state has been conducting more than 1 lakh testing is the reason behind the fall of the positivity rate in the state. Although daily cases are declining, the daily numbers remain a matter of concern. The daily death rate has been declining too, but the covid fatalities this time show a concerning trend.
It is now assumed that the state has already witnessed the peak of the second wave of the virus. This is significant that the state during its peak of the second wave didn’t have to go through any shortage of beds in hospitals and oxygen crisis, as pointed out by a report in one of the leading dailies of the state. In fact, the state not only ensured no deficiency of oxygen supply in the state hospitals but also supplied oxygen to its neighbouring northeastern states.
Having said this, the state government has to focus on increasing the speed of vaccination. As of now, the state has been able to fully vaccinate only 2.5 per cent of the population while 10.38 per cent received one dose of vaccines. The daily number of doses given reveals that there has been a significant drop in the state. Although the number of doses is increasing again, the daily numbers are far behind the previous high numbers. It clearly shows that on the vaccine front, the state hasn’t fared that well — and this is a challenge for Himanta’s government.
The chief minister recently announced that his government, which already is providing monthly financial assistance to children who lost their parents to covid, will provide one-time financial assistance for women who lost their husbands to the virus. In a good move, health minister Mahanta fixed rates for covid treatment in private hospitals. This decision comes when there have been allegations of charging unreasonable high prices by private hospitals to treat covid making it almost difficult for non-wealthy people to go for the treatment. But the state government has to ensure that its regulation step works on the ground.
Amid this, there has been a vaccine hesitancy particularly among the Muslim-dominated districts — and also in tribal-dominated ones like Karbi Anglong and Baksa — mostly due to misinformation and illiteracy, according to a report of a leading daily of the state. The government has to address this issue as soon as possible by conducting more and more effective mass awareness campaigns to bust the myths related to covid-19 vaccines in these places.
Challenges remain for Himanta’s government in its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. No doubt that the state’s approach — the Assam model — has been effective but there is no place for complacency and the state, particularly the health department led by Mahanta, should vigorously prepare, while addressing the present loopholes, to tackle the probable upcoming third wave of the virus. (IPA Service)