The second phase of lockdown has ended and the fight against coronavirus appears to be far from over. What is going to be your next plan?
Earlier, the challenge was to track people coming from foreign countries, then the people from Tablighi Jamaat. So far, we have created a very efficient system by making teams, ensuring regular sampling and contact tracing. And with that, we have been able to contain the infection inside the hot spot zones. Now the biggest challenge that more than 15 lakh migrant labourers and people living in other states are to be brought back (to the state). We have to make arrangements and the UP government is preparing for the same. In the last month, around 5 lakh such people came from Delhi and other states. Most have completed their time (14 days) in quarantine, making space for the new ones coming. But in the last 10 days, we have seen that a lot of people have come hiding in trucks or walked hundreds of kilometres or pedalled cycle. This number is around 500-1000 in certain districts. With that, we again had to start the process to screen and quarantine them.
In the last few days, we have seen that a significant number of new infection has been reported from among migrants. How are we going to stop that as more people are returning?
That is true… We will keep taking samples and putting people in quarantine. We cannot stop these people from entering the districts, no matter what. We can seal only the main roads, but people enter through jungles or villages or along railway lines. We cannot stop them. We believe that this is natural. We are making a system to bring people back in a planned way. Our chief secretary has talked to the chief secretaries of those states. As per the system, states have been asked to direct their district nodal officers to make a list of our people living there and put them in quarantine along with random sampling. The list would be sent to us and we will bring those people back after their quarantine period ends. The number of migrants is higher in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Delhi.
Do we have enough resources and infrastructure to keep around 15 lakh people in quarantine centres while maintaining social distancing norms?
Once the already established quarantine centres are vacated, we will have capacity to keep around 8 to 10 lakh people in them. As we will be doing this in phases, we hope to pull this off. We are getting phone calls from Maharashtra, Gujarat, Jammu, Himanchal Pradesh and even some North-Eastern states but people cannot come from these states without a train. That is why on a trial basis a train has been started. When all the information is collected, we will make a system to bring them back with the help of Central government. The process has already started in general, but the lot from bigger states such as Maharashtra, Gujarat and Delhi will be brought back (by train) only after we get all their details.
Almost 9% of the positive cases in UP have been linked to hospitals. Do you see that as a challenge?
That has been a problem for us. For example, in Agra, there were at least four private hospitals that treated patients with negligence, spreading infection to a lot of places. That became a big test for us. In around 20 districts with cases in double digit, we have made several teams. We are finding out what went wrong and how to contain the infection. This is why we have started mechanism to make sure that all private and government hospitals follow the protocol. To keep non-serious patient away from hospitals, we have started tele-consultancy facilities… Also, this (catching infection in hospitals) is not a new thing. Even if we keep corona aside, hospitals were always a source of infection. But after coronavirus, we have got a chance to prepare a protocol and implement it.
Even though the situation is comparatively better in UP, but the testing ratio in terms of the state’s population is still very low. Your view?
In March, we just had one testing lab. Now, we have 17 in the state. We plan to open more labs in the coming days… At present, we are testing almost 4,500 samples daily before increasing it to 6,500 tests in the coming days. The concept of pool testing has also helped us and we will see that in the next phase we will make our capacity reach at least 10,000 tests.
Around 28 private medical colleges have been given permission for COVID treatment. Are we going to see more involvement of private hospitals?
They will definitely be in our infrastructure. So far, we have prepared 17194 beds in L1, L2 and L3 hospitals for COVID patients. We want to add at least 10,000 more beds. We are talking to private ones and they will be added too. We want to create our own infrastructure as much as we can. However, many private hospitals are willing to help us and we will take that help.
We had talked a lot about the Agra model, but then there was a sudden surge in cases. What went wrong?
We cannot deny that there was negligence in Agra. Our own medical college (SN Medical College) and the district hospital were at fault and got infection, which later spread at a large scale. The protocols were not followed there. The private hospitals like Paras Hospital made the situation worse. They kept treating patients without permission. Now, it is taking time for us to contain the infection. We have already contained it to some extent but in the coming days, there might be more cases connected to them. We cannot consider it contained until the entire primary, secondary and tertiary contacts are traced. We will also fix responsibility in case of Agra and the hospitals responsible for infection.
What is your post-May 3 plan?
The final take will be based on the guidelines of the Government of India. Basically, we have to keep in mind our industries and the MSMEs, which have more than 90 lakh units. The commercial activity has to be restarted and the health department is preparing for that. The situation is comparatively better in rural areas, but in urban areas there are so many hotspots, so we have to be more cautious. However, it all depends on the Central government guidelines.
What impact will this pandemic have on our overall health system in the state?
The infection isn’t that old. Experts are suggesting that the curve is flattening. We believe that the vaccine might take around one-and-a-half years, and the virus might stay among us in some form and definitely affect serious patients. We will keep doing sampling and treating patients. This appears to go on for a long time. In the long run, the health department runs so many programs which have to continue no matter what… We cannot ignore other diseases.