By Saiyed Moziz Imam Zaidi
New Delhi, April 30 (IANS) T.S. Singh Deo is an ex-royal from Surguja in Chhattisgarh and is Minister of Health and Panchayti Raj in the Congress-ruled state. In the crucial test of management and leadership in this hour of Covid-19 pandemic, his ministry is in the forefront of twin-tasks: On the one hand, he has to ensure peoples health and contain the pandemic, and on the other, keep up the morale of the rural populace. He is also close to the top Congress leadership and was leader of Opposition when the BJP was in power two years back.
He speaks to IANS, and apprehends that the virus is going to stay for another six months, at least. “We have to prepare ourselves… and the only way is random testing,” he says. He has already got 56,000 primary schools converted into quarantine centres. “We have the capacity to deal with the pandemic. The state is ready for the migrants and they will be quarantined nearest their homes for emotional support.
Chhhattisgarh has only 5 active corona cases.
Excerpts from the interview to Saiyed Moziz Imam Zaidi of IANS
Q. What is the Covid-19 situation in Chhattisgarh?
A. Covid-19 is going to stay, at least for six months, that’s what I can sense after talking to various experts. Some experts have warned of more than 6 months — till 2022. So, we have to learn to live with it till a vaccine and other medicines are discovered.
What is the rate of testing in your state?
The Rt-PCR testing capacity is conclusive, but so far we have the limitation of 2,000 tests per day, this means a minimum of 60,000 tests per month. In a population of, say 30 million, we are doing only 1,000 tests per day on Rt-PCR. It is very low and has to be ramped up… One way of doing it is by surveillance and rapid testing. We have ordered 75, 000 kits and we have received 25,000 of them which have been distributed. We will soon have a better idea because experts say a large number of people may be asymptomatic – people could be infected, but may not show symptoms, So random testing and surveillance are the way out.
How difficult is it to identify and trace suspects and their contacts?
Experts say that 80% of the affected people would get cured. But a large number of them could be asymptomatic. So, the target is to get as many asymptomatic patients tested as possible.
Is the government experimenting with any particular model of containment?
Nobody can go beyond the established protocols approved by the ICMR. Rapid testing has to be ramped up; it is better than having thermal sensor system.
What about plasma therapy?
The whole idea of plasma therapy against coronavirus is that it helps in increasing your immune system. The use of hydroxychloroquine was also based on a similar premise of developing antibodies. So, it could be all about the immune system.
How do you see Centre’s cooperation in terms of providing support?
Its good, but they adopted a conservative approach in the sense the testing was very limited and labs were only few at a time when the world was buffeted by the virus. We should have been more proactive in terms of manufacturing PPE kits, rapid testing and other material. We would have been ahead in this fight had we adopted a protocol earlier. Initially, we were testing those coming from China. We should have prepared ourselves much more in advance.
How is the state prepared in terms of number of beds and isolation wards and how are you dealing with the general patients who are suffering from other diseases?
The treatment of other patients is affected, no doubt. It is mainly because the transportation is suspended and the number of OPDs and IPDs has dropped. There seems to be a drop in institutional deliveries. We are trying to ramp them up with arrangement such as separate vehicles in each Community Health Centre covering 50,000 people or more.
Such patients are not allowed to come from their villages or homes to the hospital because vehicles would be available. Accident cases have dropped because there is hardly any vehicular movement. The birth rate, however, has not dropped. We are trying to reach out to the families where childbirths are due.
How is the government geared up to contain coronavirus?
We have prepared 7 to 8,000-bed facilities for isolation and ICU beds with ventilators. Today we have 922 ventilators 300 child ventilators. We also have ICU beds separately and 139 quarantine centres.
Where will you accommodate the migrants after they return?
The migrants should be brought to their native places. They have suffer emotional stress and there is pressure on them to get back to their places. We plan to keep them in primary schools in every village. Each village has a minimum of 10 beds, so we can keep them there. There are 20 thousand villages in Chhattisgarh, so we have the capacity of 2 lakh beds. We have to keep in mind that we should coordinate their movement through passes issued to them at the point of departure. From the point of departure, we will try to track them to their homes and to their villages so that we can locate them accordingly
But if they are coming without passes, then it would be difficult in controlling them. We assume that they are asymptomatic and if anybody found symptomatic will be tested and isolated. It is a big challenge.
You are Panchayati Raj Minister, how have you involved panchayats in this fight against the pandemic?
The first one is awareness and we are fortunate that most of the villages in Chhattisgarh have cooperated with the government, not allowing any movement in their villages. But we have to give them employment. We never stopped MNREGA in our state, so the numbers of MNREGA workers has jumped from 40,000 risen to1851,000.
There has been controversy about procuring rapid testing kits…?
On April 4, the ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) allowed the use of rapid testing kits. When the ICMR procured the rapid testing kits, Chhattisgarh too received 4,800 of them from a Chinese company. The issue of these kits not working properly was raised by Rajasthan and other states. Then the ICMR stopped the use of rapid testing kits. They have now withdrawn them and decided to send them back to the company. We have now procured them from a South Korean company based in Manesar (Haryana). We have found no discrepancy in the results.
How many active corona cases are there in Chhattisgarh?
There are 5 active cases and 9 others, were traced through rapid testing system, are yet to be tested.