The Centre on Tuesday asked the states and Union Territories to persuade elected representatives, local influencers, celebrities and religious leaders to encourage the enforcement of containment measures at the district level to tackle the renewed surge in coronavirus cases, ANI reported.
The directive was part of a multi-point action plan prepared by the central government to contain the virus “right now” before it overwhelms the already-struggling healthcare systems of the country.
It came at a time when political leaders are criss-crossing across the country to campaign for elections in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry, where they hold rallies that are attended by thousands of people with little regard to physical distancing and mask-wearing practices.
In a letter to the chief secretaries of all states, Health Ministry Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said that after witnessing a steady decline in cases from mid-September, the country was once again experiencing a rapid rise infections. This surge was a matter of concern as it has “the potential of overwhelming health care systems, unless checked right now”, Bhushan said.
The health ministry official added that while the new infections are concentrated in certain states and districts, areas that currently have low levels of cases cannot afford to be complacent. Their lack of public effort and laxity toward following coronavirus protocol can lead to a sudden surge in cases, he warned.
The government also pointed out that many districts in the country were seeing clusters of cases emerging because of specific events or places where crowding happens, or where large number of people are in close physical contact coupled with lack of Covid appropriate behaviour.
“Covid-appropriate behaviour must be enforced using Police Act, or powers under DM [Disaster Management] Act as applicable,” the letter said. “Besides elected representatives, local influencers, celebrities, religious leaders should be roped in to ensure Covid appropriate behaviour.”
Bhushan added that states must ensure mask-wearing and physical distancing, and increase testing, tracing and quarantining, or else face “heavy costs”.
National Expert Committee on Vaccine Administration Chairperson VK Paul, too, on Tuesday said that the coronavirus situation had “gone from bad to worse” over the last few weeks, and that “we are clearly facing an increasingly severely intensive situation”.
But despite the warnings, top politicians including Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself have been addressing rallies and meetings of thousands of people, huddled together, with only a handful wearing masks.
On Tuesday, Union Home Minister Amit Shah held a roadshow in West Bengal’s Nandigram district, with visuals showing him atop an open-top bus amid a sea of BJP supporters.
In his letter, Bhushan said that under the proposed action plan, various other measures should be taken. This includes mapping of cases based on surveillance and focussed testing, reviewing sub-area-wise indicators such as case positivity rates, rate of growth of cases, case fatality, and doubling rate of cases on a real-time basis.
The health ministry official added that district authorities will also need to review the geographical spread of infection on a day-to-day basis, identifying possible source of the spread. It asked states to ensure mortality reduction at the district-level by examining indicators such as case fatality rate and its growth, locations of hospitals, and localities where deaths are high.
Adding that the efficient implementation of “Test Track and Treat” remains the “only proven strategy” to control the transmission, the ministry said that in districts where there are clusters of cases, quarantining individuals and families will not help, and larger containment zones with clear boundaries and stringent controls should be set up.