India has been implementing effective strategies to curb the menace of COVID-19 crisis and as of yet, the situation here is better as compared to many of the world’s developed countries. Also, India has won appreciations from countries worldwide for the effective and strong response against the Coronavirus. However, the honour is not only because of the Centre’s strategies but their effective execution by the States and the local governments at the grassroots level has played a crucial role, writes Adarsh Som of Elets News Network(ENN). To know about the action plans of the local governments, especially those working at the district levels, Elets Technomedia organised a series of webinars and invited various policymakers, district authority leaders and city leaders to speak on their efforts to fight against COVID-19 pandemic.
In an effort to highlight and share the best practices followed by various district administrations and civic bodies to fight COVID crisis, Elets organised the webinar series. During the webinar sessions, the policymakers, the city leaders addressing the webinars emphasized on initiatives taken in the areas under their jurisdiction to fight the COVID crisis.
The Major Blow
With the most number of Corona positive cases accounting to 30,706 and a death toll touching the 1,135 mark, Maharashtra is the worst affected state in the country. However, 7,088 people have recovered from the viral disease, as on May 17, according to the data from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW). However, the recovery count is a breath of relief and a result of redundant efforts from the local authorities.
Commenting on the State’s dire condition, Nidhi Choudhary, District Collector and District Magistrate, Raigad said, “Mumbai and Pune, two major districts of Maharashtra, are the prominent hotspots in the state.” The district administration had been focusing on spreading awareness among the villagers especially because as the cases increased in Pune, a lot of people started coming back to their homes in Raigad, added Nidhi. Speaking on how Raigad ramped up their healthcare infra and prepared to tackle the worst, she said, “In Panvel, we created a 120-bed dedicated COVID hospital, a district COVID healthcare centre, a 350 bedded private hospital and another 200-bed facility, as it is not far from Mumbai so in case of any emergency we can shift the patient to hospitals with advanced facilities in Mumbai.” And, as there was a plan to have healthcare facilities available for non-COVID patients as well, the tehsils other than Panvel, had clinics and hospitals running for non-COVID patients and fever clinics for the COVID patients, Nidhi added.
Looking at the statistics of the Corona effect in the country, Gujarat is the second-most affected state in India. As per the Centre’s data on May 17, the total number of Corona positive cases in the State is 10,988 with the pandemic claiming 625 lives. However, Gujarat authorities are on their toes and taking strict measures to prevent the virus from further spreading. As the state is continuously working on upgrading its healthcare system and using apt technology to ensure lockdown norms are being adhered to, the hard work has resulted in 4,308 people recovering from the disease. The State capital – Ahmedabad is a major hotspot.
Addressing a webinar with Elets, KK Nirala, District Collector, Ahmedabad said, “We have over one crore population in the city and Ahmedabad is one of the largest cities in the state. Considering the present situation, our first priority is to fight COVID pandemic and the rest is secondary.” Talking about the initiatives taken on the technology front and how social media has played an important role, Nirala said, “We are the first district to make the permits online to facilitate people. Moreover, a significant step has been taken wherein mobile ATM service has been started in the city for the convenience of the people…Social media has provided a very effective platform for the Government to communicate the steps being taken, essential announcements, and also it is easier to get the public’s reaction. This is a two-way communication that is beneficial for taking apt steps.”
Nitin Sangwan, Deputy Commissioner, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation and CEO, Smart City Ahmedabad, speaking on strategies implemented in the city to curb the COVID menace, said, “We increased our testing manifold. Through this move, we can also detect asymptomatic cases. We have 30 teams which are working on a daily basis and testing around 500-700 samples a day.” Further, he said that a multipronged strategy is used for the house to house survey. In one day, as many as one lakh houses have been covered. Medical checkups are being conducted by the officials and a database is prepared accordingly.
Following the list of Maharashtra and Gujarat is Delhi, the national capital. Numbers show a devastating image and heavy impact of Coronavirus in the city. Delhi has 9,333 COVID positive cases and the number of deaths accounts to 129. Despite, the high number of Corona positive cases, the recovery rate in the capital is evident to show the effectiveness of strategies implemented by the local governments.
Tanvi Garg, District Magistrate, New Delhi, in a webinar with Elets, spoke on how Delhi is tackling the pandemic. Tanvi said, “Many preventive measures have been launched by the government to curb the infection. We are regularly giving the instructions and making public announcements on avoidance of mass gatherings and strict following of social distancing in the national capital.”
Adding on to the initiatives taken, she said, “Firstly we set up the Triage facility at IGI Airport for screening vulnerable and asymptomatic passengers. Also, we set up a paid quarantine facility at the airport. We have over 600 passengers in quarantine that had shown symptoms of infection but only five of them have tested positive. All the other passengers will be discharged after the tests. The government is aiming to restrict the Coronavirus patients from entering the national capital.”
Describing the situation of the capital, Dr Rashmi Singh, Additional Commissioner, North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) said, “We need to focus on the social security aspect of urban governance.” Moreover, she spoke about a paradigm shift which is required as COVID will stay among the population for a long time and there is a need for people to learn to live with it. Rashmi said, “Adaptation is the key in times of COVID. And we need to think about different vulnerabilities as well.”
Some Renowned Models
Amidst India’s stand against the Coronavirus outbreak, some models and strategies adopted by a few districts won appreciations across the nation. The innovative use of technology; smart strategies to keep supply chains functioning; measures to stop black marketing and ensuring apt benefit to the farmers; out of the box initiatives to ensure cooked food to the poor, ration to all in need and groceries and other essentials at the doorsteps of the people; were a few highlights of these successful models. Elets got a chance to discuss a few of those models during the webinars.
One of the most talked-about and also recommended by the Centre was the ‘Agra Model’. Overall, the State of Uttar Pradesh has been proactive in utilising technology to aid their stand against the pandemic. However, Agra has been leveraging technology, smart city initiatives to strengthen their efforts to aid people amidst the crisis.
Arun Prakash, Municipal Commissioner, Agra Municipal Corporation and CEO, Agra Smart City discussed their model in a webinar with Elets. Prakash, while addressing the webinar, informed that the civic body has developed ‘Smart Health Centre’ under the Smart City Mission that helps in spreading awareness about various Dos & Don’ts amidst Coronavirus situation. The move involves a briefing of 3-5 mins regarding the Coronavirus which is being given to every patient that reaches out to the health centre for the general consultation or for a specific checkup.
Talking about the essential supplies like groceries, Prakash said, Agra District Administration and Agra Smart City joined hands to ensure doorstep delivery of the groceries by developing an Online Information Portal for the citizens. The portal will be operated from the Integrated Command Control Centre (ICCC). The authorities launched weblink for the citizens to access the portal – http://agrasmartcity.in/
Detailing on more initiatives by the city administration, Praksh said a ‘Cooked food bank’ has been constituted which collects cooked food packets from various NGOs and distribute the same to the people in need. Through the initiative, the bank has distributed around 5000 packets.
Agra authorities have developed a Lockdown Monitor app to keep a check on the movement of people throughout the city, said Prakash. The app is developed with the help of Secura, official vendor of the surveillance system for the authorities, under its CSR initiative. Elaborating about the application Prakash said, the app detects groups, crowd, and close proximity of people. Identifying any of which an alert is instantly generated to help the authorities to strictly maintain social distancing in the city. The app alerts Police personnel on the ground to take necessary action immediately. Hence, this initiative of crowd analytics is an apt solution so that the lockdown may achieve effectively.
Pilibhit district of UP was also one among those shown commendable efforts in containing the viral spread. Vaibhav Shrivastava, Collector and District Magistrate, addressing a webinar, said one of the important steps we took was to prevent people from crowding in mandis. To achieve that we started door-to-door delivery of vegetables to the people directly. “We used the Government’s portal ‘Supply Mitra’ for carrying out the home delivery of vegetables.” Also, a fixed rate list was provided to vegetable vendors. Further, he mentioned about how social media is being used to provide telemedicine services and spreading awareness among people.
Bhilwara model was another successful approach towards containing the spread of the Coronavirus. Rajendra Bhatt, Collector and District Magistrate, Bhilwara addressed a webinar by Elets and discussed a few key points on their approach.
He said, “We implemented the lockdown much before the Centre implemented it nationwide. The Chief Minister, Ashok Gehlot was briefed about the move beforehand.” Elaborating on the steps taken by the district authorities he said, “Sealing of the district borders was one of the immediate measures we implemented.” In addition, public transport like buses, cabs, and others in the district was also brought to halt. Further, wherever positive cases were found, those areas were mapped. And those areas where more cases were found were labelled as COVID-19 hotspots and were also mapped as well, he added.
Moreover, a team of 2300 workers was constituted which conducted a door-to-door survey covering all the residences in the district including the urban and the rural areas. The survey was aimed to identify the potential COVID-19 cases so that those found can be quarantined under medical supervision, said Bhatt.
Talking on the efforts to aid people during the lockdown, he said, the authorities have set up a war room for effective implementation of the initiatives and regular monitoring of the movement in the district. A control room number was also launched so that any person in need of any assistance from the authorities can contact. The control room was also used to monitor the logistics of the essential commodities to ensure the lockdown norms are being followed and social distancing is practised. Moreover, “We started the doorstep delivery of all the essential commodities including vegetables, fruits, groceries, and medicines”, he added.
All the festivals are and will be celebrated behind closed doors. People should not come out to the streets in order to celebrate any occasion, said Bhatt. “We are fighting to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 and such activities can dissolve the sole purpose of lockdowns implemented nationwide”, he added.
Efforts taken in Churu also contributed towards helping Rajasthan coping up with the crisis. Sandesh Nayak, Collector and District Magistrate, Churu highlighted measures that district authorities have implemented saying, “We traced the people who have a history of travel to foreign countries and those who have come in contact with any foreigners.” Churu gets a good number of tourists from foreign countries who visit Rajasthan, he added.
“In order to promote a simplistic living or minimalistic lifestyle among the people, we started ‘Give Up Something Campaign’ in Churu so that resources are being used judiciously and only when required. This sent forth the message to people to go out only for the urgent needs and not for things which could be avoided”, he said.
Tumkur is one of those districts which are done controlling the pandemic and are now free from COVID. However, the authorities are in a continuous effort to maintain their COVID-free status. T Bhoobalan, Municipal Commissioner, Tumkur City Corporation, spoke on the status achieved. Highlighting the proactive approach of the civic body towards the crisis, he said, “We had taken all the steps for preventing, mitigating and treating the pandemic before it started spreading in India. We proactively conducted house to house searches, found suspected cases, isolated them, and sealed the area immediately.” The result is that, as of now, there are no active cases in the city, he added.
Bhoobalan said, “We have established COVID care centre for serious cases. For mild to medium cases, we have dedicated facilities in health centres or isolation centres. Apart from these, we also started fever clinics in every nook and corner of the city for primary attention to any suspected case which if needed can be further referred to dedicated hospitals.” The corporation has also started conducting random testing to prevent community transmission of the viral pandemic, he added.
Moreover, “We are taking slum areas very seriously. We have established fever clinics near the slum areas. We are also doing ground research and strict monitoring to ensure all suspects including asymptomatic or symptomatic, are identified and isolated”, Bhoobalan added.
Narayanpet district in Telangana also stood one among the districts successfully battling the pandemic. Hari Chandana Dasari, District Collector and District Magistrate, Narayanpet said, “We decided to close down our borders even before the lockdown started.” The authorities deployed police officials at the village borders so that people don’t move in and out, she added. Moreover, to strictly prevent the movement of vehicles and people across the borders, “We requested our neighbour districts to arrange migrant camps and also urged the Government of Maharashtra, our neighbouring state, to see that people don’t migrate out”, she added.
“We have onboarded all our local representatives, we have spoken to the Sarpanches, all the ward members and explained to them diagrammatically, showed them how the virus spreads and how precautions need to be taken in villages”, she said. Describing the supply of essentials to the people, Dasari said, “We have roped in SHG women for doorstep delivery of the vegetables, fruits, meat. milk, groceries and other essentials. We have also provided them with 14 vehicles for the purpose.”
Talking about how technology has posed as a great enabler for the civic body, Dasari said, “We have a Geo-tagging app which is developed by NRSC. Hence, using the app we have started geo-tagging the houses of those under home quarantine.” Also, “We have also developed a digital platform called T-Consultant to connect the non-COVID patients in need of medical attention with the doctors. The people can connect using their smartphones, laptops with the doctors on the digital health platform without coming out from their homes amidst the lockdown”, she added.
Only a few examples of the numerous successful efforts by the districts pan India have been covered in this piece of writing. The discussions with district and city leaders displayed how a cumulative effort has been the driving force for India to successfully curb the COVID menace. “United we stand, Divided we fall” and in the present time is very much required. India will see the fourth phase of the lockdown and this is evident enough to know how the governments are taking bold decisions to save lives and pushing hard take the country out of the COVID crisis.