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Colour-coded passes, fixed dates: How a district in Maharashtra is still corona zero

The need for such passes was felt after officials realised that two weeks into the 21-day lockdown, there was an increasing number of people stepping out between 7 am and 2 pm, which was the allocated time for them to buy supplies.

Written by Iram Siddique | Chandrapur |
Updated: April 14, 2020 8:19:21 am
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While Maharashtra accounts for almost half the total COVID-19 deaths in the country, Chandrapur district, which shares a border with Nagpur (29 cases) in the north and Yavatmal (4 cases) in the west, has reported no cases so far.

And to keep it that way, the district administration has introduced a unique pass system, which seeks to enforce social distancing by assigning dates on which one member of a family can step out.

For instance, the 22,000 families in Ballarpur municipal corporation — the second largest city in the district — have been divided into five groups. Each group has been assigned a colour-coded pass — pink, blue, white, yellow and green — which specifies the dates on which the pass-holder can go out to buy groceries and other essential items.

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Kapil Dhale, a 23-year-old resident of Ballarpur, has a white-coloured pass, which allows him to go out on the 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th, 25th and 30th of the month. His neighbour, Manda Bhagat (61), has a blue-coloured pass, with the following dates — 2nd, 7th, 12th, 17th, 22nd and 27th.

Similarly, Umakant Das (53), employed with the Central Railways, has a yellow pass, which allows him to step out on the 1st, 6th, 11th, 16th, 21st and 26th. For pink pass-holders, the assigned dates are 3rd, 8th, 13th, 18th, 23rd and 28th; and for green pass-holders, the dates are 4th, 9th, 14th, 19th, 24th and 29th.

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In Chandrapur city, which has about 85,000 households, the passes are not colour coded (they are all white), but the idea is the same: the population has been divided into six groups, the passes specify the dates for each group.

The pass is valid for only one member of a family (whose photograph is on the pass), and only between 11:30 am and 4:30 pm. Each pass, with the stamp of the chief executive officer of the municipal council, has the name of the local ward, and residents have been told to limit their movement to their own wards.

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The need for such passes was felt after officials realised that two weeks into the 21-day lockdown, there was an increasing number of people stepping out between 7 am and 2 pm, which was the allocated time for them to buy supplies. This led to a rush at grocery stores and main market areas.

Chandrapur Collector Kunal Khemkar said the idea came up at a meeting with officials of Eco Pro, an organisation that works for wildlife conservation in the district. “It is not a foolproof method as those in need of medicines can step out regardless of their allotted dates, but the passes will certainly restrain people,” said Khemkar.

All the 15 blocks in the district, with a total population of 26 lakh, have been ordered to implement this system, and to rope in ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers to enforce it.

READ | Big worry as states brace for new curbs: stranded, restless migrants

In Ballarpur, a fine of Rs 500 can be imposed for not maintaining social distancing, Over the past week, officials have collected about Rs 47,000.

“With this system, we are reducing the number of people who can step out to one member of one-fifth of the population,” said Vipin Muddha, Chief Executive Officer, Ballarpur Municipal Corporation. While the passes have been distributed to 15,000 families in the city so far, the rest are expected to get them soon.

In Chandrapur city, ASHA workers were handed survey forms, which sought details like the name of the person to whom the pass should be issued, an alternate family member’s name, ration card number, and whether food packets need to be delivered.

The survey found that about 3,000 families — mostly migrant workers from Chhattisgarh, Telangana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh — did not have ration cards. They will now be given food packets.

“No one will say no to getting a food packet, so we asked ASHA workers to visit the families,” said Bandu Dhotre of Eco Pro.

So far, 17,000 people, who returned to the district from elsewhere, have been put under 14 days of home quarantine. Twenty-two people, including three who attended the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi last month, were tested for COVID-19, but their reports were negative.

Here’s a quick Coronavirus guide from Express Explained to keep you updated: What can cause a COVID-19 patient to relapse after recovery? | COVID-19 lockdown has cleaned up the air, but this may not be good news. Here’s why | Can alternative medicine work against the coronavirus? | A five-minute test for COVID-19 has been readied, India may get it too | How India is building up defence during lockdown | Why only a fraction of those with coronavirus suffer acutely | How do healthcare workers protect themselves from getting infected? | What does it take to set up isolation wards?

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