Anniversary Special: Jharkhand's Fracas With Covid-19
Newspaper: Avenue Mail
Date: 21st June, 2021
On the 31st of March 2020, Jharkhand had reported its first Covid-19 case of a young woman who had a travel history to Malaysia. Since then, Jharkhand has come a long way along with the rest of the country in dealing with this deadly virus. Jharkhand is the 14th largest state by population out of 28 states in the Union of India and has a higher population than that of the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, and 37 other European nations.
As of 17th of June 2021, India had recorded 2.97 crore cases out of which 2.85 crores have recovered and registered a grim total of 3.82 lakh deaths while Jharkhand stood at 3.44 lakh cases, 3.37 lakh recoveries, and 5092 deaths since the pandemic began last year. The contribution of Jharkhand stood at 1.12% of the total number of close to 3 crore cases at the pan India level and the state’s contribution in the death rate is a negligible 0.1% of the total number of fatalities across the country. However, each death is important and just not a statistic.
On the vaccination front, as per the Union Home Ministry, on a national level over 21.58 crore first doses and 4.96 crore second doses were injected make it a total of 26.55 crore total vaccinations administered at the India level, while Jharkhand has vaccinated 44.95 lakh people under 1st dose, 8.45 lakh people in the second dose which makes it a total of 53.40 lakh total vaccinations done till date. In effect, Jharkhand has administered 2% of the national level for 1st and 2nd doses respectively. The bright side to note is that Jharkhand has injected more total vaccines than Assam, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand as of 17th June 2021.
Since he took office, the current Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Hemant Soren has been putting his best foot forward in dealing with the crisis which emanated merely three months after he began his second stint as Chief Minister. Since the pandemic began, the CM has been at the forefront of the fight against the deadly virus with clear communication, agile actions, and centralized control at the state level. He has not shied away from taking on the central government on accusations of vaccine wastage or for not being allowed time to speak to the Prime Minister over a phone call to discuss Covid-19. He has often highlighted the state’s loneliness in dealing with the pandemic as the central government abdicated its responsibility of procuring vaccines before it retook control. Hemant Soren apart from the Chief Ministers of West Bengal and Maharashtra is seen as an outspoken leader who is bold in voicing concerns of the state and ensuring the best for its people.
The state has been responding with superlative degrees of action by initiating and withdrawing lockdowns during the second wave of Covid-19. While the infection rate and death rate did increase manifold, the virus seems to have been brought under control reflective of the national decline in infection rates. Starting with total lockdowns post 2 pm, to revising it to now 4 pm, the administration has also called for a total lockdown of 38 hours on the weekends. Additional actions included cancellation of the class 10th and 12th exams because of the pandemic, approximately eight lakh students studying in class 9 and 11 were promoted to next classes without any examinations, the state identified 234 “Covid Orphans” who would be provided help by the government. Jharkhand conducted a survey to identify Covid-19 hit families to help them. The women in self-help groups under the Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society (JSLPS) are also helping the bereaved families to settle insurance claims and getting their dues. The state also decided to release 126 prisoners on parole to decongest jails, with more parole recommendations for more prisoners amongst other urgent actions to ease the burden.
The health minister of Jharkhand Banna Gupta launched the Nistha Swasthya Sampark post-Covid helpline 07314821385 which aims to provide “post-Covid care for recovered patients in four intervention districts of Jharkhand, Ranchi, East Singhbhum (Jamshedpur), Dhanbad, and Bokaro and help set up teleconsultation platform with specialists and super specialists to address their problems”.
Reports are also pouring in of the state government’s efforts to ramp up health infrastructure in the state before the much anticipated third wave of the deadly infection where doctors and health officials were being consulted from across the country to prepare better for the next infection explosion.
The local administration at the district level in Jharkhand mooted the idea of offering lucrative incentives to the rural citizens to encourage them to not hesitate to take the vaccine based on rumors of death or impotence affecting the decisions of villagers in taking the jab. A unique vaccination camp was held in Chakradharpur city in West Singhbhum district where one litre of petrol (whose price is skyrocketing) for the vaccinated populace as an incentive.
On June 17th the state government launched the first pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) immunization drive for infants to protect them from pneumonia and Covid-19. The state Health Minister Banna Gupta announced that the state is on top of the list in providing benefits to COVID-19 patients under the Ayushman Bharat Scheme that provides a cover of up to ₹ 5 lakhs per family per year, for secondary and tertiary care hospitalization to over 10.74 crore poor and vulnerable families (about 53 crore beneficiaries).
The state government approved several proposals including one month's extra pay to Covid health workers and enhancement in honorarium for mid-day meal assistants to motivate the frontline which was in direct interface with the infection daily. Corporates like Tata Steel have been helping the state in the time of crisis by providing for 300 oxygen concentrators imported from China and the USA.
The on-time arrival of the monsoons has signaled the sowing of the Kharif crops amid the Covid-19 restrictions. The state agriculture secretary Abu Bakr Siddiqui cautioned the farming community saying, “Farmers need to follow general guidelines such as wearing masks and maintaining social distancing during sapling plantation on the field”.
Though the government is doing everything it can, the availability of vaccines is a major cause of concern as still, several centers are only open for 45+ citizens. It may take a year or more to vaccinate all people in the state at this rate. The central government has taken the onus of providing the vaccines, but it seems like a long wait to freedom from Covid-19. The government and citizens can explore more solutions for the containment of Covid-19 and actions that could prevent the 3rd wave.
Door-to-door vaccination: Jharkhand is one of the first states to propose the mobile vax center which can travel to places and get people jabbed on the spot. Apart from vaccine mobility, door-to-door vaccination, and drive-in vaccination at multiple centers is need of the hour across urban and rural areas.
Mask On: It’s common to see people getting complacent and removing their masks in public places, marketplaces, and offices as the second wave has started to recede. Masks must be kept up till the end of this year, till almost 60% or more of the state population is vaccinated and till the government does not direct citizens to remove masks like the new Covid norms in France or the USA where vaccination has been achieved for the large population and masks are no longer needed.
Travel Advisory: People have again started to flood markets, shops, and eateries forgetting that a deadly wave has just passed and the next wave may be staring at us in the eye. We must travel only when it is necessary and cannot be done without. Jamming the markets like there is no tomorrow will only hasten the speed of the next wave.
Use of E-Commerce: Though still in the nascent stage, people in Jharkhand must learn to organize their daily needs through E-Commerce. Today even Jamshedpur can boast of localized apps that can deliver food, grocery, services, clothes, and the like at a click of a button. This will help reduce the flooding of mandis and markets and make contactless delivery a bigger reality. Lesser people on the roads will mean less chance of contact and transmission of the virus.
Corporate Support: Corporates like Tata Steel and Vendata have stepped in to help the state government by providing health infrastructure, but more support will be needed. The companies must organize more vaccination centers outside their factory/office premises to reach out to more citizens to vaccinate.
Increasing Vax centers: Post offices, schools, banks, food courts, cinema halls can act as a vaccine center to increase the reach and range of the vaccines to people. In the USA, President Joe Biden announced vaccines in pharmacies for on-the-spot vaccination for people to simply walk in and walk out getting jabbed.
Together we must and we will win this fight against Covid-19.