Rohit Kumar Singh, Additional Chief Secretary (Medical & Health), steers the huge health workforce in Rajasthan, which is toiling round the clock to tackle COVID-19 and control the spread of the novel coronavirus. He discusses the strategies to deal with the situation in an interview to Mohammed Iqbal in Jaipur on Friday.
What are the special steps the Medical & Health Department is taking in Rajasthan to tackle COVID-19, which are different from other States?
‘Ruthless containment’, which we have adopted at the hotspots of infection, is the key to controlling the spread of coronavirus. Despite the hardships, people have accepted our strict decisions, and are complying with the guidelines. You have to weigh what you want — people’s comfort or spread of the disease. We also went to all households in the affected areas for screening. For example, we touched 40 lakh people in the worst-affected Bhilwara district, while the figure for the entire State is 4.16 crore.
Did the screenings lead to identification of COVID-19-positive cases?
After going to every individual in Bhilwara district and asking them about symptoms, we identified 14,000 people who had influenza-like condition. We kept track of them and if anyone showed the COVID-19 symptoms, along with a history of contact or travel, he or she was isolated. We have followed a very structured standard operating procedure.
What is the purpose of the 11-day-long “all down curfew”, which has started in Bhilwara on Friday?
We wish to cover every person who might have been left out. The figure of recovery of COVID-19-positive people in Bhilwara is very encouraging. Of the 26 infected persons, 17 have recovered. The strategy is: Don’t let the virus spread and treat the people who are already infected. The government is working on both fronts.
Will the random sampling also help prevent the community spread?
Because of the nature of the disease, there might be the people hovering around in the sub-clinical stage. They may not be showing symptoms, but they are carriers. The community sampling involves rapid test, instead of a diagnostic procedure. If there is a probability that someone is carrying the virus, we start isolating them and go for confirmation.
After Bhilwara, the Ramganj area in Jaipur has emerged as a major hotspot. How are you tackling the situation there?
Ramganj is our bigger worry now. The character of the area is different, as it is densely populated and has small and congested houses. People live there in close proximity, and it is not possible for them to maintain social distancing. We have been carrying out an intense contact tracing there since the first case was detected and have asked the people to keep distance from the suspected cases. Only today, two bus-loads of people were sent to an isolation facility after being asked to live separately for some days until the disease settled down. The good news from Ramganj is that no COVID-19-positive person has come up in the 170 tests we conducted since Thursday.
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Are Tablighi Jamaat members who have returned to their native places or travelled to different towns after the attending the Delhi event emerging as a greater risk?
Tablighi Jamaat members are, indeed, a big risk. The infection has emerged in the districts such as Dholpur, Bharatpur, Churu and Tonk, which were earlier unaffected. Tonk is a big hotbed now, with 17 cases. But the saving grace is that they have been largely identified. We have persuaded them to give details about where they went and whom they met. Our attempt is to isolate them and test them.
Were there some instances of attacks on doctors and health workers who went to the affected areas in the State?
There were some instances because of the emotional and social issues involved in this entire scenario. But the situation has improved with the protection given by the police to the teams of the Medical and Health Department. I have received reports that the people gathered in large numbers to get screened at several places when they were convinced about the exercise.
Will the situation be under control in Rajasthan by the time the nationwide lockdown is lifted?
I believe the situation will come under control, unless an unforeseen incident like the Nizamuddin centre’s infection takes place. Before the Tablighi Jamaat cases were detected, we were reasonably in control in Rajasthan till April 1. But these cases will be controlled, as they are very defined and structured. We are handling the entire of set of Tablighi Jamaat members, not just those who attended the Delhi event, to be on the safe side.
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