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Is Manipur losing the battle against coronavirus?


Despite over two months-long restrictions, covid cases spiraled out of control and the state is struggling to keep its daily numbers down. In his late night video message, chief minister N Biren Singh acknowledges the alarming situation and declares a 10-day total curfew from July 18 to break COVID chain.

TFM Report

Even after more than two months of restrictions imposed by the government of Manipur to break the chain of Covid-19 transmission and not to let the situation slip out of control, infections in Manipur have surged to record highs in the second wave spurred by a highly contagious delta variant.

The state recorded over 1,000 coronavirus cases for the third consecutive day with 1,128 new cases, the highest single day spike, on Friday. With 10 more fatalities in the past 24 hours, the death toll mounted to 1350. Test positivity rate stood at 15.7 per cent. It appears that the state is losing the battle against coronavirus.

As the situation got worse, the State home department imposed a total curfew on the entire state for ten days starting July 18.

The order mentioned that the number of infections of COVID-19 detected everyday continues to be very high relative to the population and is a cause of concern and “warrants stricter measures to bring down the spread of the infection in the interest of public health”.

Only essential activities or services related to vaccination, COVID testing, medical services (hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies), water supply, Power supply, police, telecom or internet services, air travel, agriculture or horticulture, garbage clearance, petrol pumps, LPG distributors, goods trucks, and media have been exempted from the purview of the curfew.

In his late night video message on Thursday, chief minister N Biren Singh acknowledged that the COVID situation in the state is very alarming at present.

Stating that Manipur has a small population of around just 28 lakhs, he also warned that if the situation continues to get worse, Manipur might be lost.

“No one will come to save us. We have to fend for ourselves,” he noted.

Maintaining that the state government has been making efforts at its level best, he said that the Oxygen situation has been improved with the installation of some Oxygen plants. The number of beds has been increased and more healthcare workers have been recruited, he said and added that vaccination drives are also going on in full swing.

“Despite all these efforts, we have come to a point where it seems COVID-19 could not be controlled in the state,” Biren said.

He further said that few Northeastern states that continue to reel under the second wave were because of the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

Mentioning that many “hidden cases” have been found in the door-to-door testing drive, the chief minister contended that when COVID patients arrived at the hospitals with low Oxygen level, chances of fatalities increased.

He also asserted that state forces, Assam Rifles, CRPF, etc would be deployed during the ten days total curfew, while appealing to the public, desperately, to stay at home during the period.

Can restrictions alone break COVID transmission chains?

As maintained by experts, any form of restrictions need to be followed with aggressive testing, tracing and treating. If the authorities do not follow these measures during the clampdown, it will fall flat on its face as we have seen during the two month long restrictions.

The second wave of the pandemic hit the state in the early weeks of April. The state government imposed a night curfew in an effort to check the spread of the virus.

However, with the rising number of cases in Imphal East and Imphal West, the Home Department declared the whole of Greater Imphal area as containment zone on April 29 for seven days, suspending all activities and movement of persons, except some permitted activities.

As these measures also fell short to flatten COVID curve, the state government had imposed curfew in seven districts — Imphal West, Imphal East, Bishnupur, Thoubal, Kakching, Churachandpur, and Ukhrul on May 7. Certain restrictions were also imposed in the remaining nine districts of the state. The curfew continued till July 9, while allowing certain activities and services. The state government then decided to ease the restrictions and impose only night curfew (7 pm to 5 am) from July 10 to 20.

During these more than two months, the public overall complied with the strict measures. All the major markets, shops and businesses remained closed. But as the days went on without any economic activities, people were seen coming out to the streets in some parts of the state. This, observers opined, may be due to the pandemic fatigue.

Despite the strict measures, covid cases spiral out of control and the state is struggling to keep its daily numbers down.

Have there been any lapses?

Now the crucial question is whether there were any lapses in the strategy and implementation of the guidelines to fight the pandemic.  It may be hard to get the answer right away in the middle of the pandemic. The Central team that visited the state to assess the COVID situation in the first week of July had pointed room for improvement in Manipur’s pandemic response.

Emphasising the need to improve data collection in the state, Dr L Swasticharan, who led the two-member central team, had said that only after improving the scientific analysis, the “actual picture” can be seen. However, the data provided by the Health Department, Government of Manipur is not satisfactory, to say the least.

So far, we don’t have any data on the number of cases that have been detected through contact tracing. The department has not provided any data on the COVID deaths caused by different comorbidity or post COVID deaths. All these are important in sensitising the public about the dreaded virus.

As frequently observed by many in the state is the problem of testing hesitancy. The state government has recently initiated the door-to-door testing where two individuals from each family would be tested. In order to dispel the doubts in the minds of the people as to what would happen if he or she or other tested positive, the authorities need to convince them that they will be taken care of. The public needs to be encouraged and convinced that they would be getting quality care, be it in hospitals, CCCs, CHICs, home isolation, etc, in case they test positive.

The central team had also stressed that by segregating cases on the need for actual hospitalisation, many lives could be saved. Apart from this, the quality of care being provided in the COVID hospitals and COVID care centres need to be improved, it had suggested.

Moreover, between April 30 and July 16, the state’s total number of cases detected stood at 51,373 and 950 COVID deaths. As many as 3,76,794 tests were conducted during the 78 days of restrictions, at an average of around 4,830 tests per day.

It may be mentioned that during the last three days, more than 7,000 tests were conducted and more than 1,000 new cases reported daily. So, this raised the question: why didn’t the state government increase the number of tests during those 78 days.

At last after months of restrictions and growing pandemic fatigue, the public must honour the chief minister’s appeal. However, this alone might not be enough to break the chain of transmission. The authorities need to aggressively test, trace and treat during the ten days in order to curb the spread of the deadly virus. If the authorities fail to do so this time also, we will miss another opportunity to break the chain of transmission again.

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