Chhattisgarh, surrounded by seven states, has managed to limit the spread of Covid-19 infection to 11. Of them, nine have already recovered. Chattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel tells Bhavna Vij-Aurora about his containment strategy comprising advanced planning, effective lockdown and a little bit of luck. Excerpts:
You have managed to keep the number of Covid-19 patients down in your state so far. How have you handled the outbreak?
We were preparing ourselves even before the first coronavirus positive case was reported in the state. We had increased the number of isolation beds, arranged for medical equipment like ventilators and also ramped up the capacity of the hospitals. We imposed section 144 (that prohibits assembly of five or more people) on March 21, soon after the first person tested positive.
Even luck has also been on our side since none of the 107 Tablighi Jamaat members who came to Chhattisgarh tested positive. We have them in quarantine. Also, Chhattisgarh is not a very densely populated state.
The gamechanger was blocking the Great Eastern Road (Mumbai-Howrah highway) to stop the traffic coming from Maharashtra as the number of cases went up rapidly in our neighbouring state. This was seen as a tough measure since the road goes on to Kolkata and my office got many requests to allow some traffic in the least but I just folded my hands and apologised. We also imposed an inter-district lockdown before the Centre announced it.
You also have a considerable migrant population. How have you managed the inflow?
We have set-up quarantine facilities for nearly one lakh people. Whoever entered the state was sent into quarantine. We still have 76,000 people in quarantine and these include 10,000 foreigners. We traced everyone who returned from abroad after March 1, quarantined and tested them all.
Chhattisgarh has borders with seven states. Has it been difficult sealing so many of them?
It has not been difficult. Our people have turned into soldiers and enforced the lockdown. The administration is not even required. I will give you an example. Chilly farming is done in the region bordering Bastar and Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, with heavy movement of people. The villagers there making sure that there is no cross-border movement. The lockdown in our villages has been very successful.
Do you have adequate medical equipment, testing kits and PPEs in an eventuality of cases going up?
Testing kits are limited and Centre’s help would be welcome as the threat of the pandemic is not over yet. We are issuing tender notices for 75,000 test kits, 2.5 lakh PPEs, 2.5 lakh N95 masks, 1 lakh gloves, 10,000 goggles and 10,000 face shields.
Do you think the situation warrants relaxing of the lockdown?
The decision to lift the lockdown needs to be implemented after careful consideration. We all have to run the states and need essential commodities and medicines but extensive deliberation is required before opening interstate traffic. I have also written to the prime minister about the same. If after April 14, trains, air traffic and interstate road transport gets started in the country, then there are full possibilities that Covid-19 infected people can arrive from other states in Chhattisgarh. It has to be done after extensive deliberation.