Ritika Gupta, Swati Solanki, Sakshi Sharda, Ishika Chaudhary, Arjun Kumar
The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has deeply affected Indian states and Union Territories and the region of North East has been no exception. Due to issues like lack of infrastructure and human resources, both rural and urban people were caged in the web of grief and misery wherein even to see one’s loved one last time who succumbed to Coronavirus became an act of privilege.
Focusing on the Rural Realities around the country during the pandemic, the Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS) and IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi organized a Panel Discussion on “Rural Realities | North East Practitioners’ Experiences in Tackling the Second Wave in Indian Villages” on May 16, 2021.
This article is an excerpt of the presentation given by Indranuj Pathak and the IMPRI team which provided an overview of the COVID-19 situation in India with special reference to the region of North East to set the context for the broader discussion on the topic by the esteemed panelists.
About North East
The North East as we know holds very strategic importance in India it is connected to the mainland with a small chicken neck corridor of 22 km. It is a contributor to the country and provides access to natural resources.
It comprises eight states: Sikkim, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura. The region shares international boundaries to the North with China, Bhutan to the North West, and Myanmar to the East.
Assam ranks highest in the region with more than 80 percent of the population housed in rural areas and Mizoram has less than 50 percent of the population residing in rural areas. Meghalaya has the highest sex ratio in the region at 989 while Sikkim has the lowest sex ratio, well below the national average at 890. Arunachal Pradesh has the lowest literacy rate in the region at 65 percent and Mizoram ranks highest with a 91 percent literate population.
Sikkim tops the region and is second in the country both in terms of the Sustainable Development Goals and the per capita income. Manipur has the lowest rank according to per capita income ranking 30 in the nation and Mizoram performs poorly in the Sustainable Development Goals ranking 25 in the country.
COVID-19 Second Wave
As of 13 March 2021, the total COVID-19 cases in the region were 4.78 Lakhs and total deaths were 3809. Assam had an affected population due to COVID-19 at approximately 3 Lakh. The first wave hit the region in September. The new variant, festivals, and elections lead to the rise in cases and the second wave in the region. Arunachal Pradesh has approximately 21,000 affected population. Manipur faced a similar fate.
Tripura is the second most affected state in the region. Meghalaya has been affected less in terms of percentage of the population, due to opened tourism the cases reached 22,000 which was previously unimagined in the region. Mizoram has an affected population of 8499 people. Sikkim’s management was hailed as a model because it was one of the last states to be affected in the first wave.
The Assam government on 12 May 2021 ordered the shutting of all offices, religious places, and weekly markets for 15 days in urban and semi-urban areas of the state, besides banning the movement of people from 2 pm to 5 am in the wake of the rising COVID-19 cases. 71 people died of COVID-19 in the State on 12 May 2021 when 5,657 new positive cases were reported. The COVID-19 positivity rate in the State is 8.8 percent. The State Health Department, like in other states, is planning to prioritize the second dose beneficiaries in order to ensure that they get the second jab on time.
Meghalaya continued to report over 400 fresh cases for the fourth straight day on 12 May 2021 while eight more fatalities on the day pushed the death toll to 250. The state also recorded 314 recoveries taking the number of people discharged to 17,354. The Meghalaya government is unhappy with the poor response to the COVID vaccination drive for people over 45 years of age.
Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong told reporters after a review meeting on 12 May 2021 that the vaccination coverage for the targeted group stands at a mere 37-38%.
Nagaland registered the highest single-day spike of 338 new cases and 9 deaths on 12 May 2021. Active cases are 3297 while the tally goes up to 16,890. Summer break of both govt and private schools extended till May 21. School Education Dept. order says decision taken in view of the current pandemic situation. Regional Ayurveda Centre, Dimapur begins distribution of AYUSH 64 tablets to Covid patients under home isolation. Distribution will continue for 20 days.
Lives and Livelihood in the North Eastern States have been deeply impacted. With tourism taking a hit and cities being closed to contain the pandemic the economy of the states is in turmoil.
The COWIN application seems to be not working amongst many users. Secondly, glitches in the website while entering the security code even if vaccines are available in a particular spot. There also exists a digital divide between the digitally literate, and the illiterate and underserved.
Public places like railway stations, bus terminals are not adequately sanitized as per the guidelines and thus leading to the spreading of the virus. Along with this, the public has not been following the mandates given by the administration. No accountability of the Relief funds is also making it difficult to understand and acknowledge the relief management.
Social media has been a great tool in the region and minute-to-minute information was provided. Some administrative measures in the region include Corona Pratinodhi Dol which was the make space for community participation at the grassroots level in Assam. Antflip an online delivery application directly joined the suppliers with the consumers. Arunachal provided telemedicine services and set up call centers. The region of the North East is facing an eminent vaccine shortage and the COWIN application has experienced too many glitches in the region.
Stricter penalties for the unmasked, social distancing violations, etc. and effective Implementation of COVID protocols is needed In order to minimize the impact of second-wave and prepare for a third wave, issues of lack of oxygen, health infrastructure, and vaccination, which has also added to the financial burden on most rural as well as urban households, need to be addressed in moving towards healthy and prosperous North East region.