A record 85 deaths and active cases rising from 544 to 3,500 in a month’s time has put Himachal Pradesh back on the corona spotlight. Is the tourist state heading for a lockdown or restrictions like night curfew to arrest a near-fatal second Covid wave? Himachal Pradesh health secretary Amitabh Awasthi spoke to Ashwani Sharma of Outlook in Shimla.
Q) What is Covid position in Himachal Pradesh?
The position is not very good .We are witnessing a very fast spread of the infection. There is a surge in the cases and increase in fatalities. The graph is still going up. Restrictions like closure of education institutions and limiting gatherings at social and other functions, have not paid off so far.
Q) So, this is clearly a serious second wave.
This is unfortunately true almost like other eight to nine states. The next 10 to 15 days are likely to be very difficult for Himachal Pradesh.
Q) Difficult in terms of...
Everything. It's difficult in terms of the fastest spread of the virus, difficult in terms of spike in cases and quantum jump in deaths. Even infrastructure-wise things look quite difficult and challenging for the small state.
Q) Then, what is state machinery doing to deal with the impending crisis?
We are closely monitoring the situation on a daily basis. Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, who was out of Shimla to campaign for the municipal corporation elections, has returned. Today, he led a high-level meeting. Lots of inputs were shared and explored options on possible measures to be taken as our response to the situation. “Rath yatra” – a state-wide official event to begin on April 15 has been cancelled .The number of persons attending wedding or cremations has been slashed to 50.
Q) So, there is no move to impose a lockdown.
No lockdown. The chief minister has already said so. You can’t bring economic activity to a grinding halt. A balanced approach is needed .The chief minister has been given various options. He will take a final call within a couple of days. Testing will also be stepped up and tracing will be more rigorous, apart from treatment.
Q) Don’t you think the situation is going out of hand? You need to act now.
I agree with you on that point. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also fixed a meeting with chief ministers on April 8. We will see what suggestions come from the Centre. The cabinet meeting is fixed for April 9 to take decisions in the larger interest of the people. The people will come to know about new measures.
Q) Some states, including Uttrakhand, have made RT-PCR tests mandatory for visitors.
That can also be an option. There are a few other measures discussed in today’s meeting. Lockdown is not the only option but some tough restrictions will definitely be imposed. The people must also realise the compulsions of the government to act tough to save all vulnerable people from this dreaded pandemic.
Q) What is the health secretary’s message to the people?
I can say with all responsibility that the next 10-15 days are very difficult for our state. There are a lot more risks to the people, particularly those with co-morbidities and those infected by the virus. Everyone must be careful and follow Covid instructions to wear a mask, maintain social distancing and observe personal hygiene.