With Already Porous Borders, has Assam Opened Itself up For a Fresh Wave of Coronavirus?
GUWAHATI: For a state which has failed to check illegal immigration over the last few decades due to its porous borders, it is indeed a matter of serious concern that its ‘official’ entry points are also not watertight. And if this remains the case, Assam currently seems vulnerable to a fresh outbreak of the pandemic.
As Assam was slowly feeling positive and confident about having ‘handled’ the dreaded Coronavirus pandemic, a sudden spurt of 16 new Covid-19 patients has plunged the state back to fear and panic.
While contact tracing and containment of these cases have been put into place, it is important to note that apart from five of these cases that are from Guwahati, the rest of the positive cases have only recently entered the state after interstate boundaries were declared open.
Out of these, the three latest cases are from Jorhat, who came to the state from Maharashtra in an ambulance – a driver along with two passengers. To add to this, while, the two passengers are currently quarantined at the Jorhat Medical College, the driver of the ambulance, who also tested positive later, was ‘allowed’ to leave Jorhat and the state. As per a tweet by Assam Health Minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, the ambulance had a legitimate permit to bring back a Blood Cancer from Jorhat, who is the son of one of the positive patients.
The other eight Covid-19 positive cases are currently quarantined at the Silchar Medical College and surprisingly or not, they are related to a bus which came in from Rajasthan. It was later clarified that this bus did not have the necessary permit from the ‘host’ state which in this case is Assam and had travelled after acquiring a permit from the local DC there, which was not the protocol.
In case of the Jorhat ambulance driver, Himanta Biswa Sarma today informed via a tweet, that he has been detained and hospitalised in Bihar and he was allowed to leave as he was ‘asymptomatic.’ Which brings us to ask if it was really a sensible decision to open state borders, when the national numbers are continuing to rise daily?
Alarmingly, in the recent tweet by the state Health Minister, he also stated that ‘We do not have Covid-19 testing facilities in our border (sic).’ So how safe is Assam right now with thousands of people having entered the state and even thousands more yet to enter in the coming days? And with repatriation flights being initiated, this would also bring in people from not just the rest of India but also the world over.
In a report accessed exclusively by G Plus, it is estimated that up to 8th May, as many as 40,694 people have travelled across the 32 districts of Assam, after the inter-district travel was permitted from 25th April and on May 8th alone, around 7,990 people had either entered Assam or travelled across its length and breadth.
The report also states that out of the 41,007 persons screened, 39,339 have turned out to be asymptomatic and 21,577 were sent for home quarantine. A total number of 16,834 have been stamped on their hands.
In addition to that, 18 persons have been sent to isolation, 386 were sent to the government facility quarantine and 72 persons were sent for hotel quarantine. The numbers in the report were up to date till the 8th of May and it has to be noted these numbers have possibly changed at the time of filing this story.
As for the persons who entered Assam through the border entry points, only 15,085 happen to be residents of Assam. This implies that the rest, having entered the state, have moved on beyond to other parts of the northeast or were visiting the state for other reasons. These entries include all people including trucks and other goods carrying vehicles that are transitory in nature.
For a state which has failed to check illegal immigration over the last few decades due to its porous borders, it is indeed a matter of serious concern that its ‘official’ entry points are also not watertight. And if this remains the case, Assam currently seems vulnerable to a fresh outbreak of the pandemic. With Rapid Tests failing the ‘test’ and reports of existing tests not being 100% reliable, this situation might present a fresh challenge for both the government and the people of the state.
Recently, Lav Agarwal, the joint secretary , Ministry of Health and Family Welfare stated that “...we need to understand that we have to learn to live with the virus.” Does this mean that the authorities have now resigned to the fact that the virus will take its natural course and slowly become endemic? Talks are rife about ‘herd immunity’ also coming into play, but is it not a huge risk to take for public health in general?
While this might be the case in due time, Assam it seems might have exposed itself to a fresh wave of the coronavirus attack and has possibly endangered itself. While Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma mentioned that it has directed the state police to “give permission to the Assamese people coming from West Bengal only on humanitarian grounds,” it is important to note that Assam’s northeastern sister Tripura has also seen a sudden spurt in positive cases.
In such a scenario, it would probably be only sensible for the Assam Government to reconsider its decisions while the people of the state should also remain cautious and keep maintaining hygiene and sanitation protocols.