Covid-19’s 2nd wave hits northeast India harder

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By Sujit Chakraborty
Guwahati/Agartala, May 31 (IANS)
The eight states of the northeastern region dealt effectively with the first wave of Covid-19 last year, but now face a tougher battle, compared to other states, against the second wave of the pandemic.
According to the Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry’s Covid-19 data on Monday, the recovery rates of all the eight northeastern states — Sikkim (72.24 per cent), Mizoram (74.58 per cent), Nagaland (74.90 per cent), Meghalaya (77.10 per cent), Manipur (81.41 per cent), Arunachal Pradesh (85.54 per cent), Assam (85.97 per cent) and Tripura (86.17 per cent) — are well below the national recovery rate of 91.60 per cent.
The Covid-19 related death ratios in four of the states — Nagaland (1.68 per cent), Sikkim (1.65 per cent), Meghalaya (1.60 per cent) and Manipur (1.59 per cent) — are worse than the national average of 1.17 per cent.
However, the four other — Tripura (1 per cent), Assam (0.81 per cent), Arunachal Pradesh (0.43 per cent) and Mizoram (0.31 per cent) — are faring better.
Local health officials attributed the worsening Covid situation in the region due to holding of various local body and Assembly elections, lack of seriousness among a section of people about the disease, governments delaying tough steps to prevent its spread, besides patients seeking admission in hospitals and Covid Care Centres at the last stage.
An Assam health official said that a good number of deaths in the state took place either in home isolation or due to late reporting in the hospitals.
“There are many cases in which people rushed to hospital at the last hour when oxygen saturation drastically comes down or the patients’ other serious problems crop up. We are bringing down home isolation and emphasising on institutional quarantine,” the health official, who declined to be identified, told IANS.
All the northeastern states are also facing huge shortages of Covid vaccines with only 15 to 18 per cent people having received one dose so far.
Besides day and night curfew and ‘lockdowns’, all the eight northeastern states have taken various steps to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, including closer or restricted functioning of government, semi-government, private offices, educational institutions, commercial and business establishments, banning of public transport and all kinds of gatherings.
With diverse causes and effects, doctors, experts and social activists have suggested forming study groups for an in-depth study of the disease in the region where four states – Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh – are dominated by the tribals.
Speaking to IANS, renowned physician Pradip Bhowmik noted that it was being seen in “the second wave that during the post-Covid period, many patients are being affected by pneumonia and other diseases”.
“Unlike in the first wave, a large number of young people and children are being infected by the coronavirus. In the second wave, the recovery rate is very slow and the death rate is higher in the region,” he said.
Bhowmik, who is an expert in hepatitis and has worked on the disease in the northeastern states and Bangladesh, also said that it is being observed that Indian strains of the virus are more dangerous then the UK and Brazilian variants. He also contended that genetically tribals’ immunity is always better but they are also falling prey to Covid-19, necessitating a serious study.
Mizoram, where the first Covid-19 death was reported on October 28, 2020, six months after the northeast region’s first coronavirus fatality in Assam and seven months after India’s first in Karnataka, has recently formed a study panel to examine the causes of the spread of the contagious disease, state Health and Family Welfare Secretary R. Lalramnghaka told IANS.
The Meghalaya government has also constituted an 11-member consultative committee headed by Chief Secretary M.S. Rao to recommend improving awareness on preventive measures, strategy to deal with the surge in Covid-19 positive cases, and measures to improve vaccination coverage, particularly among the vulnerable groups.
With the surge of Covid cases, the Tripura government last week appointed two senior IAS officers — Shailesh Kumar Yadav and Vishal Kumar, both doctors turned bureaucrats — for Covid management in four districts each.
The Assam government on Monday announced it would conduct “Assam Community Surveillance Programme-Phase III” this year too, entailing medical teams visiting every household of the villages to track Covid cases across the state. The four-month long programme would start from Tuesday.
A 23-year-old woman, who had returned to Manipur from the UK in March, became the first coronavirus case in the entire northeastern region. She was also the first to recover in the region. The first coronavirus death in the region was in Hailakandi district of southern Assam on April 10, 2020, when a middle-aged man, who had visited abroad, succumbed.

(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at sujit.c@ians.in)

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