Is Meghalaya prepared to handle second COVID wave? Diagnosing the surge
At a time when normalcy has gradually started limping back into our country, the second wave of COVID-19 that struck India weeks ago has shocked the government as the transmission rate is faster compared to the first wave.
So far, India has registered over 2 lakh 95,000 new cases of COVID-19 only in the last 24 hours, the highest number of new cases reported in a single day since the outbreak of the pandemic in the country.
With this, cumulative positive cases have crossed the one crore fifty-six lakh mark.
WHAT IS THIS NEW VARIANT OF COVID-19?
What worries health experts is the emergence of this new variant, scientifically known as B.1.617. This new variant is the cause of a record surge in infections in the country, though the government is yet to confirm it.
According to mint, this new variant, which has the so-called double mutation, was first reported late last year by a scientist in India and the Health Ministry first acknowledged the presence of this mutant at the end of March. These are the E484Q and L452R – two mutations come together in the same virus.
Now the latest reports point to the emergence of a “triple mutant” in India.
MEGHALAYA: WHERE DO WE STAND NOW?
In Meghalaya, the alarming surge in the number of cases has sparked fear and concerns amongst citizens.
So far, the state has registered a total number of 1021 active cases. At least 192 cases were detected in the last 24 hours, with three deaths. Cumulative recoveries now stand at 14130 with 157 deaths.
Recently, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma had stated that the rise of COVID cases in the second wave is six times higher than the first wave.
“The rise of cases is six times higher this time compared to last time. Therefore, the situation is serious and, there is a lot of concern,” Sangma had stated.
IS MEGHALAYA PREPARED TO HANDLE THE SITUATION?
“These are trying times; these are difficult times. We are ensuring that there should not be any lapses, and we should be fully prepared for any eventualities,” Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma said.
According to health officials, Meghalaya has enough stock of medicines and vaccines, including other medical facilities, to handle the current situation.
“We know cases are spiking now but, the government and the health department are prepared for any eventualities. We are ready,” Health Minister AL Hek told TNT-The Northeast Today.
He said that the state is equipped with all the required facilities like medicines, beds, oxygen supply, and ventilators. “We have already informed the departments concerned not to compromise on anything related to fighting COVID-19,” Hek added.
Meanwhile, Surgeon Superintendent (SS) of Shillong Civil Hospital and Joint Director of Health Services, Dr Andreas Dkhar, said, “Yes, right now, we are prepared. In this hospital, we have 40 beds. But it depends on the surge. If cases continue to increase, I would have to close another building of this hospital (Civil) and, if a massive surge comes, we would have to close some of the hospitals and turn them into COVID hospitals.”
Currently, Meghalaya has 80,000 doses of COVID vaccines which can last for 10 days.
At present, Meghalaya has 32 invasive oxygen cylinders and, with the support of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, it will acquire another 54 non-invasive ventilators. The state has 75 BiPAPs (Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure).
The state has around 609 oxygen support beds and 65 ICU beds. The state also has its own oxygen plant at Byrnihat in Ri Bhoi.
WHY THE SURGE?
Complacency is one of the major factors contributing to the surge in COVID cases in the state and the country.
“I cannot deny the fact that people have become complacent,” the health minister said, adding that public gatherings sans adherence to COVID protocols is another factor attributing to the spike in cases.
The SS of Shillong Civil Hospital, Dr Andreas Dkhar, said the Health department has been advising people from time to time to maintain human behavioural change and continue with wearing masks, social distancing and hand washing.
But sadly, the protocols are limited to pamphlets and public service announcements.
“When you go to the field, you will see nobody is wearing masks. I think unless people take this seriously, it is not going to help. People lack in this area,” Dr Dkhar said.
Meanwhile, Rajeev Sarkar, an epidemiologist at the Indian Institute of Public Health (IIPH), said, “It is because we do not have a controlling mechanism in place like we did last year.”
UNCERTAINTY LOOMS LARGE AMONGST PEOPLE INVOLVED IN TOURISM AND BUSINESS SECTORS
At present, Meghalaya is not looking at another lockdown but, apprehension looms large as people involved in the business and tourism sectors are uncertain about the future of their businesses with rising cases of COVID-19.
These sectors are still struggling to recover from the losses suffered during the lockdown imposed last year and, people fear that another lockdown would push them to the brink of collapse.
“I have not been able to pay my house rent since last year and, the bill is piling up. The market is not doing well and, if another lockdown comes, it would be the death of us, the poor people,” said a local vegetable vendor at Iewduh (largest traditional market in Meghalaya).
President of the Meghalaya Rural Tourism Forum, Alan West Kharkongor, said if there is another lockdown, it will vastly impact the tourism sector, thereby impacting our economy in a major way.
“If that happens, the state government has to be ready with relief packages,” he said.
“They (people involved in tourism) have already suffered for one year. Even after the lockdown, every set up was made to pay the electricity bill as per the One-Time Settlement Scheme (OTS). Most of them were compelled to take a loan and, if another lockdown comes, they will not be able to repay the loan,” Kharkongor observed.
The tourism and business sectors have just started rolling after a lull of one year. And the grim situation that we are staring at right now does not look bright for these two sectors.
“Yes, we have to take into consideration all those people whose livelihood depends on these sectors. But we have to see which is more important. We have to prioritise the situation. At present, health is the topmost priority,” Health Minister AL Hek said.
CHECK OUT THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FIRST WAVE AND SECOND WAVE
ARE WE STARING AT ANOTHER LOCKDOWN?
Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong, on April 21, said that lockdown is the last resort while advising people to help the government by following all protocols before the situation goes out of control.
Earlier, Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma had stated that the state is not going for any lockdown but, certain restrictions have been imposed to curb the spread of the virus.
Similarly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while addressing the nation on April 20, had also stated that lockdown is not the option.
GOVERNMENT STRESSES ON INTENSIVE AND EXTENSIVE VACCINATION DRIVE
India has crossed a landmark with cumulative vaccination coverage of more than 13 crores. More than 29 lakh vaccine doses were administered in the last 24 hours.
Giving prominence to the COVID-19 vaccination, Meghalaya health officials said that the vaccination drive would start from Shillong and move out to other parts of Meghalaya.
And starting May 1, even citizens above the age of 18 years can avail the vaccine.
“(I) encourage those taking the vaccine to continue following Covid Appropriate Behaviour even after the vaccination & encourage others to come forward. With 6.5 lakh citizens above 45yrs, we are intensifying our efforts,” Chief Minister Conrad Sangma tweeted on April 21.
Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong reaffirmed the government’s commitment to roll out the vaccination drive in an "aggressive" manner.
“It (vaccine) won't be chargeable except for those who get themselves vaccinated in private hospitals,” he said.
Similarly, Health Minister AL Hek said at present, the state has no shortfall of the vaccine. “But, later when we start the massive vaccination drive, then we will have to review the situation and, if need be, we will seek the Centre’s help,” he added.
The local communities and centres are also being re-activated to facilitate the vaccination drive.
ARE VACCINATED PERSONS IMMUNE TO THE VIRUS?
The answer is NO. Dr Andreas Dkhar explained: Just because you are vaccinated, it does not mean you are immune to the virus.
“You may still get the infection. Senior doctors from premier health institutes have observed that you may get the infection but, the severity may be less and chances of going to the hospitals and ICU is less,” Dr Dkhar said.
When asked whether there are any serious cases in the hospital at present, the Surgeon Superintendent (SS) of Shillong Civil Hospital said, “Right now, we do have serious cases. As you know, COVID cases are classified into A (mild), B (slight fever), C & D (serious). For A & B cases, we encourage patients to go for home isolation but, for C & D, we advise them to be hospitalised.”
Furthermore, the health professional also asked people to allow doctors to decide on the diagnosis.
There was a lot of confusion in the past regarding the difference between the COVID reports taken from Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR), TrueNAT and Cartridge Based Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (CBNAAT).
“RTPCR is the gold-standard test. If you are positive with one method of testing, do not go for another test because if it comes out negative, you will only confuse yourself,” Dr Dkhar said.
The Union Health Ministry, on April 21, released data on Covid infections after vaccination.
Only 0.04 per cent of those who received the first dose of Bharat Biotech's made-in-India Covaxin contracted Covid. Of the 93,56,436 who have received the first dose of Covaxin, 4,208 have tested Covid positive. And out of 17,37,178 who received both doses, only 695 tested positive.
For Serum Institute of India's Covishield, the numbers are even lower. Out of 10,03,02,745 recipients of one Covishield dose, 17,145 have tested positive (0.02 per cent). And out of 1,57,32,754 recipients of both doses of Covishield, 5,014 have tested positive (0.03 per cent).
A total of ₹820 crore was allocated for the Health sector in the 2021-22 budget, an increase of 13 per cent over 2020-21.
The question arises: Is this amount enough to meet all the requirements as the state government will now have to purchase the vaccines at a much higher price than the previous rate of Rs 150 per dose.
A senior health official refused to comment and only stated that the government is taking steps to procure the vaccines.
Serum Institute of India, on April 21, released a statement saying that it will charge state governments Rs 400 for the vaccine (Covishield) per dose.
Meanwhile, Health Minister AL Hek said a proper calculation of the expenditure incurred ever since the second wave hit Meghalaya is yet to be completed. “We are spending now but, we have not calculated the total expenditure yet," he said.
You have your questions answered. Now, the onus is on you and me to protect ourselves and our families.
TNT-The Northeast Today appeals to citizens to follow all the protocols issued by the central and state governments from time to time.
Let us fight this virus together! It starts with you and me!
Stay safe, stay protected and remember to always WEAR YOUR MASKS, WASH YOUR HANDS and MAINTAIN SOCIAL DISTANCING.
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