Imphal/New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government is closely monitoring the northeast region as most of the 8 states continue to record high positivity rates and rising caseload even as the second Covid wave has abated.
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Home Affairs held a meeting with health department officials from the northeastern states — Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Sikkim, Tripura, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh — to gauge the spread of Covid and understand how they were planning to tackle rising caseloads.
The move came a day after Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan shot off letters, accessed by ThePrint, to each state in the northeast, where he highlighted their caseloads, positivity rates, and case fatality rates district-wise.
“There is an urgent need to strengthen our collective efforts to curb the spread of infection,” Bhushan wrote, emphasising the importance of testing, implementing Covid-appropriate behaviour, and ramping up infrastructure.
This followed the Modi government’s decision to rush Covid control teams to six states to monitor disease surveillance. Three of the states were in the Northeast — Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura and Manipur.
Barring Assam and Nagaland, all Northeast states recorded a jump in daily Covid cases over the last week, according to an analysis of data.
However, speaking to ThePrint, health officials from Manipur, Sikkim, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh suggested the cases in their states were manageable, and the situation was under control.
What the data shows, and states say
Daily cases have grown the fastest in Arunachal Pradesh, from 277 on 30 June to over 346 on 7 July, a seven-day rolling average shows. The state’s daily caseload jumped by 25 per cent on average this week. Arunachal is recording four times the number of cases seen in Delhi, which has a far bigger population.
“The rising number of Covid-19 cases is a concern for us. Our peak was on 28 May with 497 cases. Then they fell and started to rise again after 21 June. We are trying to plateau the cases so they don’t hit a second peak,” P. Parthiban, Principal Health Secretary, Arunachal Pradesh, told ThePrint.
The 6 July letter to Arunachal noted that its weekly positivity rate between 28 June and 4 July was 16.2 per cent — much higher than 5 per cent, the threshold that the WHO says suggests infection is under control. Parthiban, however, said this number was misleading, and was caused by a backlog of data.
“The central government team was sent here because of the high positivity rate, but it is not the ground reality. We have poor net connectivity and cannot upload testing data in real time, which is why the positivity appeared high. In reality, we are maintaining a positivity between five and seven per cent, and the Centre has been informed about the same,” he added.
Between 30 June and 7 July, daily cases (seven-day rolling average) grew by 24 per cent in Mizoram (from 240 to 297), 9 per cent in Manipur (595 to 650), 8 per cent each in Sikkim (136 to 147) and Tripura (376 to 406), and 5 per cent in Meghalaya (436 to 457).
Cases in Assam and Nagaland fell by 9 per cent and 39 per cent, respectively.
“Yes we have noticed that our numbers are not decreasing, but the reason for that is extensive contact tracing on our behalf. For every positive case, we are testing 18 to 24 contacts — more than any of the other states,” said Dr Deep Kumar Debbarma, Programme Officer, Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme, Tripura.
“Our positive cases are coming from positive contacts,” he said.
Meghalaya Health Secretary Sampath Kumar said, “We found that 90 per cent of the samples sent for genome sequencing were of variants of concern, which is one reason why our cases have been plateauing (not reducing) for the last month. The population is also desperate with people living in small housing structures.”
Positivity point of ‘concern’
Of the top 10 states that recorded the highest positivity rates in India between 23 June and 7 July, seven were from the Northeast, with Sikkim registering the highest figures.
In this period, Sikkim tested a little over 11,000 samples, of which nearly 2,000 returned positive. This means for every 100 people the state tested, at least 17 were positive — nearly six times more than the national average of three positive cases per hundred tests.
“It is a point of concern that, currently, Sikkim has a weekly positivity of 18.7 per cent (28 June-4 July) and it has been consistently more than 15 per cent over the past 4 weeks. All the 4 districts are reporting a positivity of more than 10 per cent, which is a cause of concern,” Bhushan wrote in his letter.
Sikkim Principal Health Secretary K. Sreenivasulu said, “Our positivity appears high when positive cases are compared to the number of tests done. So far, only 3 per cent of our state population has been affected. If required, we will definitely increase the number of tests.”
Barring Assam (2.14 per cent), all Northeast states recorded a test positivity rate higher than 5 per cent in the two-week period from 23 June to 7 July.
Measures to contain spread
Each state is implementing different measures to ensure a reduction in the spread of Covid. In Meghalaya, where the health secretary says stigma is still high and misconceptions about the disease persist, officials have designed a pamphlet to help people identify the various stages of illness.
“We have actually seen a reduction in the number of people requiring oxygen after we put public health measures in place. We are apprehensive about a third wave and have put together committees to ramp up our paediatric care facilities as well,” said Meghalaya Health Secretary Sampath Kumar.
Assam Chief Secretary Jishnu Barua said the situation was “under control” and that the state had a “gradual approach to imposing restrictions”. “There are about seven districts with a high positivity which are in lockdown. In other districts we have a graded response,” he said.
Parthiban told ThePrint that 68 per cent of Arunachal Pradesh’s voters have taken the first Covid vaccine dose.
“We sincerely believe the vaccine can help us manage the disease better. We’re hopeful that by July end, we’ll be able to vaccinate our entire population as per the electoral roll. In fact, we want to go over 100 per cent so that we account for migration patterns between Arunachal and Assam,” he said.
Manipur, meanwhile, has started door-to-door testing to try and reduce the positivity rate.
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