Health experts, IMA warn against lifting lockdown
[ Junroi Mamai & Tongam Rina ]
ITANAGAR, Apr 10: The state government is going to continue the lockdown which started on 23 March.
Responding to a query from this daily, Chief Minister Pema Khandu said the lockdown will be continued and details will be shared on 13 April.
Officials informed that modalities are being worked out and a final decision will be taken after the prime minister’s conference with the chief ministers of the country, which is scheduled for 11 April.
Interstate boundaries will remain sealed and social distancing will be continued, meaning there will not be any drastic change from the current form of lockdown, officials said.
Arunachal had already announced a statewide lockdown a day before the 21-day nationwide lockdown began on 24 March.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi met leaders of various political parties, including the Congress, on 8 April and said it would not be possible to lift the lockdown abruptly on 14 April.
During the meeting with the PM, the political leaders also reportedly expressed apprehensions over completely withdrawing the lockdown on 14 April.
While Kerala is planning to ease the lockdown in areas where there are no reports of infection, Odisha has extended the lockdown till 30 April and Punjab has extended it till 1 May.
An expert committee formed by the Kerala government, which has been widely hailed for its handling of the outbreak, has recommended district-wise phasing out of the lockdown over three stages, starting on 15 April.
Public health experts warn against lifting lockdown
Public health specialists say that Arunachal is not prepared for lifting of the lockdown.
Seven public health specialists this daily spoke to said the only solution for the state against Covid-19 is continued lockdown for a minimum of three more weeks.
They all agreed that the state does not have the required health facilities to deal with an outbreak, and that the safest way to wiggle out of the pandemic is to lock down the state.
One said that even if there were five severe cases in the capital region, the health department would be too overwhelmed to deal with it.
“Our health system will collapse,” the expert warned.
The designated Covid-19 hospital in the state, Tomo Riba Institute of Health & Medical Sciences, has an intensive care unit with just five ventilators.
The rate of recovery from Covid-19 is high and not everybody needs a ventilator, but still the state does not have the required facilities to deal with the pandemic, the health experts said.
One described the pandemic as a “ticking time bomb.” Though there are going to be financial implications, the most prudent way right now is continued lockdown, the expert said.
Another claimed that community transmission has already started in some pockets in the country, “though the central government is yet to admit it.”
Preventive measures like social distancing and lockdown are the best recourse for a state like Arunachal with nonexistent healthcare facilities, the experts said.
“The incubation period for the virus is 28 days, so at least there should be complete lockdown for another one week,” said an expert, while another opined that the lockdown should be extended for another one month “to completely rule out spread of the virus.”
All the specialists agreed that outsiders, including people from the state who are stranded outside, should not be allowed back now, and that, if all they are allowed in, the quarantine facilities need to be improved and they must stay in the facilities.
The health department has already said that people who have come back from outside the state are not following the quarantine norms.
The public health experts suggested that intra-state travelling may be allowed after two weeks, but between places where there are no cases of Covid-19 and districts that do not share boundary with Assam.
Lifting lockdown will be catastrophic: IMA-AP
The Indian Medical Association’s Arunachal chapter (IMA-AP) has requested the state government to extend the lockdown in the state upto 13 May “and follow the D Model of lockdown protocols of the Covid-19 epidemic in India with mitigatory social distancing, as recommended by the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai, in the interest of the state.”
The IMA-AP submitted inputs to Chief Minister Pema Khandu here on Friday and sought extension of the lockdown for another 28 days, stating that lifting the lockdown now would be “catastrophic” for the state’s population.
The team said that with the rise in Covid-19 cases in the country, “the risk of getting infection to the state’s stranded students and others outside Arunachal has increased several folds.”
“They will become the source of infection if they arrive in Arunachal Pradesh. Many asymptomatic carriers might enter the state if lockdown is lifted. As of now, we don’t have any antibody test kit (screening kit) to screen, as well as RT-PCR (confirmatory test) facility ready in the entire state,” the doctors said.
They said the state already received a large number of students and other returnees prior to the imposition of the lockdown on 23 March.
“These students are already not following home quarantine properly and there are only a few takers of the government-designated quarantine centres,” they said, adding that if all stranded students are brought back at this stage, it would become almost impossible to put them all together in quarantine centres.
“Moreover, without sufficient manpower, resources and testing backup, this exercise will be futile,” the doctors said.
They informed that TRIHMS would require 239 beds if the current lot of students develop infection after reaching the capital. “It will not be able to cater to them with the currently available logistics.”
They advised the state government to instead liaise with the governments of the states where the students are stranded, provide the students with financial help, and ensure adequate food supply and security for them.
As of now, because of the concerted efforts of the district administrations, the police, the health department and the IMA-AP, there is no documented case of Covid-19 in the state.
“This hard-earned containment would go in vain with this fresh wave coming to the state,” the team said.
It added that by extending the lockdown, the state government would have sufficient time to prepare systematically, arrange testing kits, and set up well-equipped quarantine facilities.
The doctors also met Deputy Chief Minister Chowna Mein and Health Minister Alo Libang, and shared their inputs regarding the extension of the lockdown.
The IMA-AP has also written to the Assam chief minister, suggesting extending the lockdown for another 28 days.
“Many asymptomatic carriers might enter the state if lockdown is lifted. Assam will turn out to be the hotspot of this pandemic if they are to come back to their respective states via your state,” the letter read.
“Other than Assam, many NE states don’t have any antibody test kit to screen as well as RT-PCR facility, nor do they have adequate ICU facilities and other logistics,” the letter read.