Updated: March 30, 2021 7:52:50 am
THE BUSTLING New Market area of Bhopal had an unusual visitor last week — Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. What he brought along was unusual, too — not a shopping bag, but white paint and masks.
Chouhan’s appearance was part of a move to promote the ‘Mera Mask, Meri Suraksha’ initiative to combat the spurt of Covid cases in Madhya Pradesh. On March 23, the Chief Minister launched the statewide campaign by visiting crowded places, distributing masks to people, and using the paint to draw distancing circles outside shops.
On Saturday, he asked people to follow Covid-appropriate behaviour and celebrate festivals with their families inside their homes. He also assured that the Covid-affected among marginalised sections will be treated free of cost in government hospitals.
In the throes of a second wave, the positivity ratio of the state has touched 9.9 per cent with an overall tally of 2,91,006 cases so far. Within a month, reported positive cases grew from 363 on March 1 to 2,323 on March 29.
The state has reported a total of 3,967 deaths so far with the highest (957) toll in Indore followed by 630 in Bhopal. Indore and Bhopal have also been reporting the highest number of daily cases with Monday’s tally at 609 and 469, respectively.
A team of medical experts, headed by Sujeet Singh, Director of National Centre of Disease Control (NCDC), has already visited the state and held a day-long meeting with state officials. Speaking to The Indian Express, Singh said: “All cases of reinfection, and those turning positive post-vaccination, will be monitored closely and samples sent for genome decoding.”
Madhya Pradesh is also dealing with at least two known variants of the virus that were reported in 11 cases so far in districts of Bhopal and Indore. And government hospitals have been asked to reserve 40 per cent beds for Covid patients while surgeries have been postponed.
Amid this, the mask campaign focuses on creating awareness and maintaining the lifestyle adopted during the Covid lockdown.
According to officials, the need for the Chief Minister himself to step out arose after it was noticed that people had stopped following Covid guidelines. “During the unlocking, when normalcy returned, we realised there was zero adherence to wearing a mask even in urban areas…the situation was far worse in rural areas,” a senior official from the Health department said.
Since then, the state has witnessed a slew of measures to create awareness. Several ministers, including Home Minister Narottam Mishra, have begun visiting crowded places in Bhopal urging citizens to mask up. At least 34 bureaucrats, including deputy secretaries, principal secretaries and additional chief secretaries, were allocated specific areas within the city to distribute masks.
So much so, that Indore MLA Akash Vijayvargiya even placed a newspaper ad, saying he has “spent three lakhs on ads… only to create awareness among citizens to wear masks”.
The Chief Minister, meanwhile, also wrote to Leader of Opposition Kamal Nath and others seeking their cooperation.
However, the Congress has criticised the initiative with state spokesperson Narendra Saluja calling it a “farce”. “The two visits of the Chief Minister, in Bhopal and Indore, led to more overcrowding. His visits are leading to flouting of social distancing norms…it has been a year into the pandemic and people are used to wearing masks,” Saluja said.
Police are, meanwhile, stepping up their vigil. In Ujjain district, those found without masks are sent to open jails for an hour and allowed to leave only after they purchase a mask made by a self-help group.
In Betul district, however, SP Shimla Prasad has put up “selfie points” at important locations, encouraging people to click a selfie wearing their masks and post it online.
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