As the overall number of COVID-19 cases in the country crossed 1,000 late Sunday evening, with Maharashtra and Karnataka each reporting over 180 patients and 11 others reporting 30 or more, there are now only six states that have yet to record a single positive case.
One of these is Assam, where, widespread confusion over the spread of the virus and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 21-day “total lockdown” notwithstanding, the state government responded swiftly in the initial days and has prepared extensively since for an outbreak within its borders.
“With the lockdown, our focus has been on tests and preparation; these are two vital factors recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Though we don’t have a positive case, we are focusing on screening, testing and surveillance,” Samir Sinha, the state’s Health Secretary, told NDTV.
“There was initially no testing centre here. The first was an ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) and now we have three. We have enough testing kits and will now start using the rapid detection kit,” Mr Sinha said.
“We have mobilised PPE (personal protective equipment) kits and other medical equipment, such as medicines. We want to get all our hospitals and infrastructure up and running before the outbreak hits us,” he added.
Among the steps the government has taken so far – a possible blueprint for the country in dealing with similar viral attacks in the future – are transforming two stadiums, including the Saru Sojai Stadium in Guwahati, into makeshift quarantine facilities with a total of 2,000 beds and ensuring that all 33 districts have designated treatment centres for coronavirus patients
It has also directed three state-run medical colleges, with a total of 5,000 beds, to serve as COVID-19 treatment centres. It will pay private sector hospitals to treat those previously admitted to its facilities; this ensures that patients with other serious ailments and diseases are not neglected.
Finally, all final year medical, paramedic and nursing students are being trained in treating COVID-19 cases to boost staffing levels in the event of an outbreak.
Also, everyone who entered the state – be they Indian or foreign – before the lockdown has been sent to a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
The state government claims all of this prep work is being done with one mantra – “prepare, prepare and over-prepare”.
Assam’s prep levels are crucial not only for its population of 3.5 crores but also because it is the gateway to other states in northeast India. Manipur and Mizoram, two states in the region, have one COVID-19 case each. The rest, including Assam, have none so far.