COVID-19: Assam Health Minister warns of tough times

Himanta Biswa Sarma on Coronavirus – The News Mill
File photograph: Assam Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma

Sounding the alarm bells for Assam in face of COVID-19 pandemic, state health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on March 24 warned of tough days for the state, especially with recurring endemics and natural disasters also looming ahead.

He also admitted to weaknesses in the state’s healthcare system, while also as the finance minister of the state, Sarma underlined the negative economic impact of the pandemic and its consequent lockdowns and curfews.

Making a statement in the state legislative assembly on the status of COVID-19 in the state, Sarma said, “I have to admit that our health infrastructure is not very strong. The lives of our doctors, nurses and medical staff are more precious than our in the current situation. But doctors need Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) Kit to attend to the patients. After much effort, we have managed to get 2000 PPE Kits and our target is to get 1 lakh at least”.

He informed that 155 ICU beds exclusively for COVID-19 positive cases, with the target of making it 1,000.

He further said the government is strategising to convert all the medical colleges and hospitals into dedicated COVID-19 treatment facilities, if the number of cases increases, and shift the other patients to nearby private hospitals.

The stock of medicines which has so far globally shown positive results for treating COVID-19 is also adequate at the moment, the minister said, while also emphasising on the need to maintain the logistic chain for transportation of equipment.

Sarma further said Assam started social distancing in very early stage and the first level of awareness has also been achieved.

On the eight-day lockdown from today, he said, “Delhi has been unofficially saying that lockdown may not be enough and curfew is needed, as it was seen in other states that lockdown could not keep the people inside. But we are not contemplating it (curfew) as of now as we think the people will abide by the lockdown”.

He further said the government was aware that the lockdown could have a serious economic impact and added, “If the lockdown is prolonged, we have to take some drastic steps. We may have to call a special session of the Assembly even. The government is thinking of innovative steps to help out the people and we assure that the government will stand with the people”.

“We will take steps to mitigate economic hardships, but we have to wait till after March 31. I believe that our society has the inherent strength to tide over it,” Sarma added.

He also urged the legislators to refrain from making any comment without clear scientific knowledge.

Warning of additional problems for the state, the minister said, “In the midst of this, Japanese Encephalitis cases will start and then, floods will come. The year 2020 has started as a most unfortunate year for Assam, but we are hopeful that it will end on a fortunate note”.

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