Updated: May 12, 2021 12:10:44 pm
AUTHORITIES IN Andaman and Nicobar islands are taking proactive measures to contain the spread of Covid, following a spurt in cases, largely driven by travellers from outside, over the past one month. The islands have recorded 16 Covid deaths in the second surge, taking the toll since last year to 78, and currently have 195 active cases.
Officials said all the cases have been reported from Andaman and that not a single case has been found yet in Nicobar district.
Interestingly, the group of islands, with a population of over four lakh, has achieved zero-covid case distinction thrice since the pandemic began last year – in March and May 2020, and in January this year. This has been possible largely because of the travel curbs imposed in the islands – measures which have been tightened in the second surge.
“In December 2020, we imposed a rule that anyone coming to Andaman and Nicobar had to mandatorily have an RTPCR test done and produce it for verification. Nobody was allowed in without it,” Andaman and Nicobar Health Secretary R N Sharma told The Indian Express.
“The fact that the Andaman and Nicobar islands are nearly 600 scattered islands across 800 km restricted in some ways the virus’s spread. But this presented its own disadvantages and we had to restrict movement between islands to ensure the virus doesn’t spread,” he said.
“The small population helped us in robust contact tracing. But one thing we did do to ensure the virus didn’t spread to other islands was contain all positive cases in one place. They would be placed under institutionalised isolation in hospitals and Covid care centres, treated and released only once they recovered.”
Deputy Director (Health) and Covid nodal officer Dr Avijit Roy said once the cases started rising on the second wave, the administration quickly put in place a number of measures, including a layer of tests. “Apart from the mandatory RTPCR, now when a passenger arrives, they have to undergo a rapid test at the airport. Even if both tests are negative, the passenger still has to undergo a seven-day quarantine. In case of testing positive, the passengers are sent for a 14-day institutional quarantine,” he said.
Dr Roy said Andaman saw its highest single-day load of 97 new cases 10 days ago – all from Port Blair. Out of the current 195 active cases, seven are in North and Middle Andaman, while all the rest are in South Andaman district, around the densely populated capital Port Blair.
“The surge happened in Andaman because of tourists who had been coming, sometimes with false RTPCR reports. They would arrive in Port Blair and then the virus would spread,’’ said Dr Roy.
Last month, a group of 40 labourers arrived at the Port Blair airport, with negative RTPCR reports, en route to Nicobar island for construction work. Thirty of them tested positive at the airport. While the administration has not banned flights so far, they have been reduced and passengers restricted. Hotels, tourist hotspots, shops and establishments have been shut to stop the spread.
Inter-island and inter-district movement has been completely stopped since last month. The only movement is by the administration itself – carrying essential supplies such as ration or gas to the islands or travel by medical professionals to carry out tests. The administration so far has carried out 3,77,293 tests recording a positivity rate of 1.7 per cent.
The Andaman and Nicobar administration has a Covid specific disaster plan in place which looks at dealing with 4,000 patients during a surge. Much of the infrastructure is already set up. As of date, the islands have a total of 6,376 Covid beds, out of which 6,181 beds are lying vacant, according to the administration data.
Most of the beds occupied – 188 – are in South Andaman district, more specifically at GB Pant Hospital, the main Covid hospital for the islands.
Across Andaman and Nicobar’s scattered islands, Covid centres equipped with oxygen beds have been set up. When patients need expert medical care, they are evacuated by air and brought to Port Blair for treatment – at a cost of Rs 3 lakh per evacuation. “The Andaman administration has spent Rs 77 lakh on evacuations so far,’’ said Dr Roy.
The administration has already covered 25 per cent of its population in vaccinations, out of which 97.8 per cent of its over-45 years residents have received the first dose while 16.34 per cent have received both doses.
“Our medical professionals and all our Covid Warriors are doing an exceptional job on the ground. Andaman and Nicobar islands have limited resources – no hi-tech hospitals or a large number of doctors and nurses. Yet the administration has been able to contain the virus admirably,” said Andaman and Nicobar’s Congress Lok Sabha MP Kuldeep Rai Sharma.
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