COVID-19 virus now in community, getting bigger: Himanta Sarma

Assam recorded its highest one-day spike of 1,202 new COVID-19 cases on July 4; 782 cases were from Guwahati alone

By Sadiq Naqvi
Published: Monday 06 July 2020

Assam experienced a sharp spike in the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the last few days, said the state health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said on July 5, 2020, adding that the “SARS-CoV-2 virus is now in the community” in Guwahati.

Guwahati, a city of 1.1 million, reported over 1,300 cases on July 4 and July 5. Assam registered 1,202 new COVID-19 cases on July 4, its highest single-day spike in the number of infections so far. Guwahati alone accounted for 782 of these cases.

On June 28, the state had recorded 327 new infections and a total of 7,493 cases. The total COVID-19 cases were 11, 737 as on July 5.  

“Guwahati has formally entered the pandemic. It is now in the community and getting bigger and bigger,” Sarma said during a press conference. He added that earlier people returning from other states would test positive for the virus. That, however, was not the case anymore.

“We recorded 2,741 positive cases in Guwahati in the last ten days. Most cases were due to the community spread,” Sarma added. He said none of the cases had any travel history.

Guwahati recorded 552 cases on Sunday. It has been under a two-week lockdown since June 28.

A senior official from the state’s health department confirmed the same.

On July 5, Secretariat Administrative Department of the Assam government ordered to restrict the functioning of departments in the state secretariat to check the spread of the virus.

The order, which will remain in force till July 12, said only ten departments, including the Chief Minister’s office, the health and family welfare department, the chief secretary’s office and the office of the ministers,home and political department and office of senior secretaries from the rank of commissioner and secretary will function with skeletal staff.

GP Singh, additional director general, law and order, Assam Police, tweeted on Sunday that 196 Assam Police personnel tested positive for the virus. 

How cases shot up

As people returned to the state in May and the number of cases positive to the virus shot up, the state government put a strict “quarantine” at places where all arrivals were screened and tested. People were put in institutional quarantine till their test results were ready. 

With questions being raised over the efficacy of the move, the senior official quoted above accepted there were loopholes.

This official explained how an individual who may have tested negative on arrival in the state may still be carrying the virus and may have spread it once the institutional quarantine period was over.

The official added the contact tracing exercise may not have been 100 per cent foolproof. “The virus is sneaky,” he said.

He said truck drivers, some of whom carrying essential commodities were exempted from quarantine, may also have played a role. “Truck parking areas, dhabas may have become infection points,” the official said.

In May, a worker at the trading hub of Fancy bazar tested positive, leading to speculation that the virus may have been carried by truck drivers who frequented the area.

Down to Earth had reported in May how there were worries of virus spread in Guwahati amid reports of cases having no travel history.

It was in mid-June that Sarma accepted how the situation in Guwahati was critical; there were 25 cases without any travel history at that point. The state’s health department had then ordered 50,000 tests as part of a targeted surveillance programme to check for community spread in Guwahati. The government had also announced an elaborate standard operating procedures on trucks entering the state.

Meanwhile, as situation continued to take a turn for the worse, the state government announced a two-week lockdown in 11 of Guwahati’s 31 wards from June 23.

Merely three days later, Sarma announced a complete 14-day lockdown in Kamrup Metropolitan district from June 28 evening; Guwahati had over 700 positive cases with no travel history till then.

Deputy Commissioner Bhaskar Pegu said areas such as Pandu, Maligaon, Fatasil Ambari, Dhirenpara, Bharalumukh and Paltan Bazar were the worst affected.

Minister Sarma tweeted on July 6 that the health department will carry out house-to-house tests in ward number 2 of Pandu area, starting July 7. He said the department will target 3,000 tests in two days.

The official quoted above said situation continues to be grim as a high number of persons coming out voluntarily to testing centres were testing positive.

“In some centres, the positivity rate was as high as 30 per cent over the last two days,” the official. The state started rapid antigen testing two days ago.

Guwahati has 31 testing centres — one in each ward — and two hospitals where people can test for COVID-19 with the new antigen testing kits. These tests will also be extended to 10 hospitals on July 5, where authorities are already taking swab samples.

“We will take rapid testing to the community if needed,” the official said.

As on July 5 evening, Assam had conducted 459,143 tests. Sarma tweeted that 11,736 persons tested positive since March 31 when the state reported its first case. At least 7433 have been discharged so far.

He added that 39 patients in the state, including 30 in Guwahati hospitals, were in ICU while 70 patients across the state were either on ventilator or oxygen support.

A playground was recently converted into an 800-bed COVID-19 care centre. Subsequently, a trade centre was also transformed into one.

Sarma, during the press conference, said home quarantine of positive asymptomatic cases was not a good idea.

The grocery stores across the city opened up for the first time since June 28 on July 5. Sarma added that a decision on the extension of lockdown will be taken after taking stock of the situation in Guwahati later this week.

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