The Uttar Pradesh (UP) government is successfully tackling the brutal second wave of Covid-19 infections and also ramping up health infrastructure with focus on children in order to deal with a possible third wave, a state government official has said, rejecting criticism over the administration’s handling of the pandemic.
Navneet Sehgal, an additional secretary and information advisor to chief minister Yogi Adityanath, also said the state administration did not ignore rural areas and was keeping close tabs on the situation there, remarks that came in the backdrop of opposition’s claim that the spread in UP’s villages had gone out of control.
“Since the first wave, the government has been carrying out a house-to-house survey of all villages and urban areas in the state…as of yesterday (Tuesday), we have covered more than 17 crore population — out of the 24 crore population — by going house to house and identifying people with symptoms,” he said.
The chief minister himself travels to at least three villages a day to take stock of the situation, Sehgal said.
UP, India’s most populous state, also has the country’s largest rural population (about 15.5 crore). The number accounts for 18.62% of the country’s rural population. Opposition parties have alleged that in the absence of adequate testing infrastructure, the actual Covid-19 spread in UP’s villages is much worse than what official data shows.
“…testing in rural areas has been increased since March 31 (before the second wave hit India and the state with tremendous ferocity). The government has begun a special, focused campaign in rural areas, where more than 70,000 village surveillance committees have been formed in 97,000 villages. They are going house to house to provide free medical kits as soon as somebody is showing symptoms such as high temperature, coughing (which are also the symptoms of Covid-19),” Sehgal said.
With a recovery rate of over 95% and a ramped-up testing coverage, UP appears to have been successful in turning the tide. The state had a worrying peak of 3,10,3783 actives cases on April 30. The number had come down to 62,271 as of Thursday afternoon.
Sehgal also responded to the controversy over bodies found floating in the Ganges and those buried abandoned at its banks, with critics alleging that the deceased were Covid-19 victims and that official data did not factor in these fatalities.
“Riverside burials have taken place for decades in the state. Some villagers do not cremate their dead due to a tradition…and instead dispose of the bodies in rivers or by digging graves on riverbanks.
“Of course, the practice is quite detrimental to the ecosystem. We have posted SDRF (State Disaster Response Force) and PAC (Provincial Armed Constabulary) personnel at every river and water body, and alerted panchayats and urban local bodies to see that no bodies are dumped in rivers. The government has been creating awareness and strongly deterring people from such actions,” Sehgal said.
He added that municipal corporations will bear expenses of funerals at all crematoriums, cemeteries and cremation grounds. “It has been made mandatory to follow Covid-19 protocols while conducting such funerals. The expenditure incurred…will be met by the urban bodies from their own resources or from the State Finance Commission. A maximum amount of Rs 5,000 will be spent on each funeral,” Sehgal said.
Sources in the state government said the CM himself had stepped in on the matter and called all district magistrates to ensure that there was dignity in death and that no one should have to bid goodbye to their dear ones in such a manner.
Speaking on how the state was preparing for a possible third wave, Sehgal also underscored UP’s focus on children.
“…a 100-bed paediatric ICU (PICU) ward will prepared in all medical colleges as per the honourable chief minister’s directions. At least one PICU should be established in each of all 75 districts in the next 15 days. As per the CM’s order, Lokbandhu Hospital of Lucknow will be prepared as a mother and child Covid Care Centre. Paediatric beds with all resources will start working as ‘raksha kavach’ in hospitals in every district,” he said, remarks that came amidst apprehensions in a few quarters that a possible third wave will affect children.
A source pointed out that the chief minister’s “handling of the encephalitis crisis in his constituency of Gorakhpur and his emotions proved that children’s well-being matter a lot”.