Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday held a virtual review meeting on the Covid-19 situation with the chief ministers of the north-eastern states, during which he expressed concern over maskless people thronging hill stations and marketplaces, while calling for greater emphasis on micro-containment zones and boosting the vaccination exercise.
Health secretary Rajesh Bhushan made a presentation about the rise of coronavirus cases and the subsequent inoculation in these states compared to the rest of the country. Eight chief ministers from the Northeast were present in the meeting held through videoconferencing: Himanta Biswa Sarma from Assam, Pema Khandu from Arunachal Pradesh, N Biren Singh from Manipur, Meghalaya’s Conrad Sangma, Nagaland CM Neiphiu Rio, Zoramthanga from Mizoram, Sikkim’s PS Golay and Tripura CM Biplab Kumar Deb.
“It is true that tourism, business and trade have been greatly affected due to the coronavirus… but today I will say very emphatically that it is not okay to have huge crowds in hill stations and markets without wearing masks," the PM said, speaking in Hindi.
Apart from the Prime Minister and some senior officials, union home minister Amit Shah and health minister Mansukh Mandaviya were also present in the meeting. Minister of state for health Bharti Pawar, minister for development of the north-eastern region G Kishan Reddy and his junior minister, BL Verma, attended as well.
“We also have to keep an eye on every variant of the coronavirus. Experts are constantly studying about how challenging it will be after mutation. In such a situation, prevention and treatment are very important," said the PM.
Taking their turns to speak, all the chief ministers thanked the Prime Minister for his constant support and also lauded his leadership in the difficult Covid times in the face of the unprecedented challenge.
Sources say the Nagaland CM thanked the PM for all his support to ramp up the health infrastructure in the state and raised the issue of ensuring more assistance for establishing pressure swing adsorption (PSA) oxygen plants in all the states.
Meghalaya chief minister Sangma also shared that by aggressively pursuing testing and treatment, the state has been able to keep its Covid numbers in check and RT-PCR testing has been a priority, according to sources.
Tripura chief minister Biplab Deb reportedly thanked the Prime Minister for the Jan Dhan accounts that helped transfer money directly to intended beneficiaries for Covid relief. The state has managed to send money to seven lakh account holders.
Talking about the steps taken by Assam to keep the Covid numbers in control, chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma is said to have informed that his state kept on testing people to make sure no chances were taken. Assam with a population of 3.57 crore did not impose any form of lockdown during the second wave of Covid that wreaked havoc in most parts of the country earlier this year but instead chose to establish micro-containment zones. This was appreciated by the Prime Minister in his response.
The PM congratulated the north-eastern states for minimising vaccine wastage and ensuring maximum utilisation of health facilities and infrastructure.
“We will have to take stern steps for micro-containment to check the rise in number of cases,” the PM said on the recent Covid surge in a number of the north-eastern states.
There is a need for “innovative ways to handle the crisis and we need to look at using best practices", he added.
The Prime Minister said people should realise that a third wave of the pandemic would not come on its own and everyone should be asking how to stop it from happening.
“The ‘sabko vaccine-muft vaccine (vaccines for all-vaccines for free)’ campaign run by the central government has equal importance in the Northeast. To combat the third wave, we have to keep accelerating the process of vaccination," he said.
Efforts must be made to curb any vaccination hesitancy, said the PM.
“We have to move forward by improving the infrastructure related to testing and treatment. For this, recently the cabinet has also approved a new package of Rs 23,000 crore. This package will help every state in the Northeast strengthen its health infrastructure," he added.
Sources say the Mizoram chief minister told the PM that the rise in Covid cases in his state was due to the constant influx of refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh, and sought his intervention.
According to sources, Arunachal CM Pema Khandu said that the positivity rate in his state, as indicated by the health and family welfare ministry, was not 16% but was below 8%; data had not been uploaded regularly due to patchy internet connectivity.