Tablighi Markaz returnees to Gujarat led to escalation in cases: Vijay Rupani

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New Delhi, May 4 (IANS) Gujarat Chief Minister for the last three-and-a-half years, Vijay Rupani is dealing with the scourge of the deadly coronavirus by virtually fighting in the trenches as the pandemic scorches his state. He has been in favor of a gradual lifting of the lockdown because he has been practicing a cluster containment strategy in areas registering high number of Covid-19 cases.

In an extensive conversation with IANS, he outlines his mantra for going after the virus even as he maintains an equilibrium between lives and livelihood. Rupani said, “My main aim amidst the lockdown is to ensure that no one in Gujarat should sleep with an empty stomach.”

Here are excerpts from the interview:

Q: Gujarat is one of the preeminent industrialised states in India, and the late surge of Covid-19 cases must have taken the administration by surprise. Now as the lockdown lifting measures are being talked about, how are you dealing with hotspots like Ahmedabad and Surat?

A: Gujarat was the first state in India to have a disaster management authority. This has helped the state have a structured intervention in such critical times.
Since the beginning of the lockdown, we have made it a point to ensure a steady supply of essential items in accordance with safety measures. We contacted the organisations supplying items like milk and medicines and instructed them to follow safety protocols and ensure continuous supply of essential items to the citizens of Gujarat.
Following the MHA guidelines, industries in rural areas were given approval to operate. Later, we also permitted export units within city limits to resume their operations provided they had prior export orders. A standard operating procedure (SOP) was drafted and sent to all the units that resumed operations.
The SOPs included safety measures like social distancing, compulsory use of masks/sanitiser etc. We also increased the daily working hours to 12 hour a day with adequate remuneration for the extended time period. In addition to that, we also instructed the industrial units to provide accommodation within the working premises for its staff as far as possible.
As the lockdown has been extended for another 14 days from May 4, we are ensuring a strict implementation of the same. At the same time, we are taking extra precautions and making an effort to resume day-to-day activities in the less affected areas.

Q: As the state’s CM, how have you managed to maintain the fine equilibrium between lives and livelihood?

A: Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi had laid emphasis on ’Jaan Hai to Jahan Hai’ when he announced the first phase of the lockdown on March 23. Inspired by his words, my administration’s prime motive was to save the people from getting affected with the virus. As a measure of caution, we deployed police personnel across the length and breadth of the state in addition to using CCTV and drone surveillance to ensure that people do not move out of their houses amid the lockdown.
At the same time, we adopted cluster containment strategy in areas registering high number of Covid-19 cases. We imposed a curfew in such areas with a complete restriction on movement of people. At the same time, we ensured to provide essential items like milk, medicines, vegetables etc. to the people at their doorsteps in such areas.
We started intensive testing in such areas to identify the affected people and put them under necessary medical care. There were more than 750 teams of health officials engaged in this task for Ahmedabad for seven consecutive days. In Surat, we had 666 teams working for three consecutive days. At the same time, we also tested in other parts of Gujarat to find out the suspected cases and trace their origin.
My main aim amid the lockdown is to ensure that no one in Gujarat should sleep with an empty stomach. We covered more than 90 per cent of the state’s population, more than 5 crore people i.e. 66 lakh NFSA families and 61 APL-1 families, within the first 15 days. At the same time, we also introduced the Anna Bhrama Yojana to provide free food grains to migrant workers and those without ration cards. We covered around 5 lakh people under this. In order to ensure that the families do not run short of essential supplies, we decided to provide an additional of 3.5 kg wheat and 1.5 kg rice to each NFSA card holder in the last week of April.
At the same time, we initiated the Vadil Vandana for the aged and the elderly living alone in the mega cities. We ensured the provision of free meals at the doorsteps through this scheme. At the same time, we distributed more than 3 crore food packets to people who did not have the provision to cook. We have also deposited Rs 1,000 into the bank accounts of NFSA card holders through DBT, without any additional documentation process. This has benefitted more than 65 lakh families as we have deposited Rs 650 crore into their accounts.
Apart from that, we provided farmers the liberty to harvest Rabi crops, permitted them to transport bore wells and started the purchase of agri produce from April 15 at the APMCs. More than 15,48,657 quintals of agri-produce has been sold by the farmers at the APMCs as of May 1. We have also started the purchase of wheat and gram at MSPs from the farmers.
Based on the guidelines issued by the MHA, we decided to resume industrial units outside municipal limits from April 20. We instructed the owners to ensure safety measures and arrange accommodation for the workers within the units as far as possible.
We also made it a point to provide 30-minute break every 6 hours and adequate remuneration for a 12-hour shift. At present, around 40,000 industrial units have resumed their operations and more than 5 lakh workers have resumed their duties. We decided to resume export units within the city but outside containment zones from April 25, provided they had pending export orders.

Q: Gujarat has a splendid history of dealing with the Surat epidemic and cleaning up nicely after that. Are some of those mechanisms and learning coming handy in the fight against Covid-19?

A: Gujarat has witnessed various disasters in past like the Surat Epidemic, Kutch Earthquake etc. and has come out of it successfully. With the State Disaster Management Authority in place, we are doing a careful analysis of the measures taken in the past and implementing the relevant ones in a step wise manner amidst the Covid-19 crisis.

Q: How would you explain this sudden rise in Covid-19 cases? As I write this, there are more than 4,300 cases in Gujarat�

A: I consider the rise in cases as a positive sign for the administration and the people because it helps us identify the affected patients and put them under necessary medical care. The intensive tests done by the administration have helped us identify the affected people, thereby leading to a rise in the cases. As of May 1, we have conducted more than 68,000 tests across the state.
If we talk about Ahmedabad, more than 60 per cent of the total cases are from cluster regions, i.e. 20 per cent area of Ahmedabad has 80 per cent of the cases and the remaining 80 per cent area registered 20 per cent cases. A large number of people attended the Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi and came back to Gujarat. By the time we could track them, they had already come in contact with their friends, family and other people around them. This led to the rise in cases in the city.
At first, we identified the hotspot areas and imposed curfew. At the same time, we did aggressive testing in those areas in order to identify the infected people and put them under necessary medical care in order to curtail the spread of Covid-19. The health workers conducted door to door tests in the affected areas. We have tested around 3000 samples per day in the last 10 days due the increase in the number of approved labs.
We also created 2,200-bed capacity hospitals in our four major cities for treating Covid-19 patients by March-end itself, and we were the first state to do so. At present, there are more than 61 hospitals, including 31 private hospitals, for treating Covid-19 patients. There are 10,500 Covid-19 beds with 1,500 ICU beds and 1,500 ventilators at the moment. We will increase this to 22,500, including 10,000 beds in Covid-19 care centres, in one week.

Q: You have also had problems with migrant labourers from Odisha in Surat, how have you dealt with that issue?

A: As Surat is one of the fastest growing cities in India and a major industrial hub, there are large numbers of migrant workers in the city. The government had communicated to the district administration, municipal corporation, business houses and social organisations to ensure the provision of essential items and shelter to migrant workers amid the lockdown.
I am proud of our local administration, which has made special arrangements for more than 1.25 lakh labourers in Surat. We have distributed free of cost grains, rice, pulses, sugar and salt to these labourers under the Anna Brahma Yojana. This is a state-wide scheme providing free food grains, salt and sugar to the poor, deprived, labourers and helpless sections of the society. Not only this, we have gone further to cover those migrant workers who do not have ration cards, to support them in this hour of crisis.
The local authorities also interacted with few of the labourers and got to know that the main concern for them was not food or shelter, but work. They wanted to return home as they did not have work. With the new guidelines issued by the MHA, we restarted industries, workplaces and factories from April 20. At present, there are more than 40,000 industries running in the state with 5 lakh labourers working in addition to more than 30,000 labourers working at 700 private construction sites.
I am hopeful that things will improve for the better in the days to come.

Q: What are some key innovative measures initiated by your government to curb the menace of Covid-19?

A: Gujarat was the first state in India to come up with a dedicated Covid-19 hospital. We built a 2200-bed hospital within a week. At present, we have around 10,500 dedicated Covid-19 beds and it will increase to 22,500 in a few days.
I am proud to tell you that a private firm in Rajkot has manufactured ventilators. They are at par with international standards and cost less than the imported ones. After getting necessary approvals, the firm is now providing us indigenous ventilators named Dhaman-1. I am sure that the firm will be fulfilling India’s demand of ventilators in the days to come. At the same time, we have vendors providing us a steady supply of N-95 and three layered masks and PPE kits, all produced in Gujarat.
Gujarat is not only fulfilling India’s demand for HCQ tablets, but the state is also fulfilling the global demand. Our pharma industries have exported HCQ tablets to countries like the US, Israel etc.
At the same time, we are the first state in India to come up with mobile testing vans for testing more and more Covid-19 samples from the rural areas.
These steps have certainly prepared us to face this challenge comfortably, and I am confident that we will be able to contain the spread of the virus soon.

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