COVID-19: Amid travel history concerns, Himachal has a plan in place

Many who returned from the Gulf hid their travel history, said officials. The state has launched a helpline for the purpose 

By Rajeev Khanna
Published: Tuesday 24 March 2020
In Himachal Pradesh's Solan district. Source: Rajeev Khanna

The north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh is gearing up to combat novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. On March 24, 2020, the government imposed a curfew in the entire state to control the spread.  

But there is a looming concern — of those who returned from the Persian Gulf and southeast Asian countries recently and hid their travel history.

 “Till early March, there we were concerned about those who returned from the 12 affected countries. But it eventually spread to other countries and was declared a pandemic,” said a health professional.

The professional added that most people who returned from abroad refrained from disclosing their travel history; their neighbours and other community members confronted officials about same. Following this, they were quarantined.

“We have now started a dedicated helpline (01792-221234). People can inform us about those who did not disclose their travel history,” said Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Rajan Uppal.

The state has declared strict home quarantine for people who landed in India on or after March 9. All such foreign returnees would have to mandatorily notify the district surveillance officer. They would have to register themselves for home quarantine by dialling 104, failing which legal action would be taken against them.

Another concern is that of Nepalese labourers who entered the state before bus service between Tanakpur on Indo-Nepal border and Shimla was suspended. Officials said it remains to be seen if any of the workers displayed any symptoms of the disease.

The labourers worked in orchards and vegetable fields in Himachal Pradesh.

“The labourers come from Nepal in huge numbers, disembark from Himachal’s gateway at Parwanoo, and move to Dharampur and Shimla. The contractors hire them and take them to the interiors. They need to come up and disclose if any labourer showed any symptoms,” said another health professional.

CMO Uppal said health professionals are taking no chances at their end. He added that some Nepalese persons have been put under quarantine.

In Solan district, separate quarantine homes have been arranged for those who returned from abroad and are asymptomatic, but have nowhere to stay. These have been set up at Nauni, Kunihar, Nalagarh and Kandaghat and have around 250 beds collectively.

Similar facilities have also been set up at Parimahal in Shimla, Ner Chowk in Mandi and Chem in Kangra districts. These will be used for people who returned from abroad but are asymptomatic and have co-morbidities.

There is also a talk of bringing ASHA and mid-day meal workers to monitor the situation at Panchayat level. According to health officials, they would supervise things from a distance.

Uppal added that they have started putting up stickers outside doors of those who have been quarantined.

“This is to make people aware and ensure they do not move about freely. Those quarantined are being contacted daily by our health workers over telephone. They have been given a list of contacts to talk to during emergency,” he said.

While isolation wards have been set up in government hospitals, instructions have also been given to private ones to earmark at least two beds at isolation ward.

CMOs have been allowed to convert government rest houses, and government and private hotels into quarantine homes in case of an emergency.

Meanwhile Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur said the government will ensure poor labourers and non-government sector employees do not face any problem. He added that relief measures worth Rs 500 crore would be doled out. 

He added that district-level coordination committees have been constituted for effective and better coordination with the administration so that people do not face any inconvenience. 

About 0.5 million social security pension holders in the state would be issued first-quarter pension in the first week of April 2020. These include about 0.1 million widows and disability pension holders.

He said that Department for Empowerment of Schedule Castes, Other Backward Classes, Minorities and Specially Abled has been directed to take immediate steps to provide pension to 0.05 million new eligible persons.

He added that the increased honorarium would be released from Apri 1 to anganwadi workers and assistants, mini anganwadi workers, ASHA workers, sewing teachers, mid-day meal workers, water guards, para fitters, para-pump operators, numberdars, etc, besides daily wagers and outsourced workers.

A large number of vehicles that tried to enter the state in the last few days were pushed back. According to officials, many people tried to enter the state through alternate routes, but were sent back. Legal action was taken wherever required.


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