Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath speaks to Liz Mathew about the steps taken by the state government to contain the spread of coronavirus, protecting health workers and helping stranded migrant labourers. Excerpts:
Uttar Pradesh, despite being the most populous state, has so far been able to contain the spread of the virus to an extent. How did you manage it?
Yogi Adityanath: I am grateful to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had already warned the country against this danger. Also, a comprehensive action plan was implemented from time to time in India. Today, not only is the 130-crore population of India feeling proud, but the entire world is appreciating the excellent leadership of Modi ji. UP has followed the guidance of the PM in letter and spirit. Being the most populous state, the danger was also highest here. But a time-bound action plan and its effective implementation led to considerable success in controlling the spread of corona infection. My cabinet colleagues worked with me to formulate an action plan. Whether it is the case of construction workers or the matter of paying maintenance allowance to street vendors, porters, etc., or providing food grains to weaker sections, the Team 11 of senior officials effectively implemented the action plan. Each of these teams has responsibility and accountability. As a result, today there are 10,000 isolation beds, 20,000 quarantine beds, 1,000 ventilators and 17 testing labs in the state. More than 60,000 samples have been tested. When the corona threat was sounded in the state, we had only one lab where 50 tests could be conducted. Today, 4,000 tests are being conducted daily in 17 labs. Not only Team 11, I too communicate continuously with officials working in the field including DMs, SSPs, CMOs, divisional commissioners and IG-rank officers at the Commissionerate level and ADG-level officers posted in the zone. I also hold review meetings with Team 11 every day.
Is the state able to conduct adequate number of tests? Are you planning to increase the number of tests?
Yogi Adityanath: We have 24 state medical colleges. We established testing labs in 10 of them. The other seven labs are established in other institutions. Now, new laboratories are being set up in four government medical colleges and six divisional headquarters including Aligarh, Moradabad, Gonda, Varanasi, Mirzapur and Bareilly. In addition, COVID sample collection centres have been set up in each district. Our government has created a COVID Care Fund, and a lot of support has been received from different sections of society. Funds thus collected will be used to increase the testing facility. Besides, UP is the first state to conduct pool testing. Our commitment is to ensure good health facilities for the people. We will make every possible effort in this direction.
Has the government taken adequate steps to protect the health workers?
Yogi Adityanath: Firstly, I thank all health workers, doctors and nurses who are continuously working to serve humanity with full devotion. The topmost priority of our government is to protect these health workers of the state. We have given full protection to the Corona Warriors. In case anyone violates the rules, strict action has been taken under the purview of the law. While PM Modi announced Garib Kalyan package for the weaker sections of society, he also announced insurance cover of Rs 50 lakh for Corona Warriors. We have adequate quantity of PPE kits, N95 masks and sanitisers to protect them from infection. Proper arrangements of these have been made in every COVID hospital of the state so that they do not face any shortage while treating patients. Secondly, I keep appealing to people that we should respect and encourage doctors, nurses, police personnel and health and sanitation workers who are fighting on the frontlines against corona. Incidents of stone-pelting against health workers were reported at some places. Soon after, clear instructions were given to take stringent action against such persons including imposition of NSA. In order to protect health workers, police team will accompany the Health Department team for sample testing or screening in hotspot areas. Safety of health workers is most important for us.
What has been the biggest advantage of the state once you prepare the strategies to fight COVID 19?
Yogi Adityanath: The first advantage is to have a PM like Modi ji, who keeps guiding us like a guardian to solve every problem. Secondly, a better team and coordination is required to formulate any strategy. In coordination with the Cabinet, I made a strategy to fight COVID, and to implement it, 11 teams of senior officers were formed and their responsibility fixed. Every day I hold a review meeting and give directions. We made health services a priority since the formation of the government in Uttar Pradesh. Today, the positive results of the steps taken by the government in the last three years for betterment of health services are in front of everyone. The increase in the number of medical colleges and deployment of health workers are some of those steps. Today, we are imparting training to students of these medical colleges to fight against COVID-19.
The state has seen the return of migrant labourers from different parts of the country in recent weeks. What are the measures you have taken to see that virus spread will not go out of control in the coming days?
Yogi Adityanath: The state government has taken the responsibility of migrant labourers who are currently in UP or are stranded in other states. We deployed nodal officers in every state so that labourers living in those states do not face any problem. We have also sent letters to many CMs regarding this. I also communicate with CMs so that no labourer living in their respective states has to face any problem. Regarding workers who have come here from other states, we have kept them in quarantine and made arrangements for food and water. Once they complete their quarantine period, we provide them Rs 1,000 and rations. We are also making efforts to provide employment to them here. We have made complete preparations to control the spread of corona. Medical check-ups and quarantine are being taken up as precautionary measures.
Is the government taking special steps to see that there is no community spread of the virus?
Yogi Adityanath: Lockdown rules, social distancing and sealing of hotspot areas are the steps taken to prevent the spread of corona. The government will take further steps if needed. In any case, we will not allow community spread in UP. An order has been issued for not keeping people together in quarantine centres and shelter homes. I have given clear instructions that no public gathering should be allowed till June 30. No one is allowed to enter a hotspot except police, medical team and those associated with doorstep delivery. The result of such strictness is evident. In UP, 19 districts are free from corona.
The migrant workers returning to the state may lead to a rise in unemployment. Does the state have programmes for them?
Yogi Adityanath: UP was reeling under unemployment before 2017. But when we made efforts after forming the government, there was a lot of employment generation. The workers, who you are saying will lead to increase in unemployment, will also get employment here. There is no dearth of possibilities. There are challenges but we also have many opportunities. During lockdown itself, the government has provided direct and indirect employment to more than 1.5 lakh people through doorstep delivery. We are in a position to provide immediate employment to 15 lakh people. There is also a lot of opportunity in government construction work, MNREGA, MSME enterprises and work done through voluntary organisations. Instructions have been given to prepare an action plan for the post-lockdown period. I want to assure everyone through you that in future, no labourer in UP will have employment problems.
Concern was raised about the fear created among Muslim minorities about communal profiling of corona patients. This seems to have made tracing patients tougher as those with symptoms refused to come out. Your comment?
Yogi Adityanath: Team-11 is monitoring every activity in the state. We hold a review meeting every morning, the effect of which has been seen in the state capital along with remote villages. At a time when the government was almost successful in controlling the spread of corona, the Tablighi Jamaat brought new concerns because most of the cases were related to Tablighis. But our government resolved this matter very well. We have a better system available, from hospitalisation to quarantine facilities, so that there is no atmosphere of fear. The work of identifying patients is being done at every level, in which all the departments are working jointly. Some people of the Tablighi Jamaat first tried to remain in hiding, but after the appeal of the government and strictness of the police, they came forward themselves.
The CAA protests and Tablighi-related COVID-19 cases appear to have created a communally charged situation in the state. Do you think the widening schism between communities have become a threat to the state’s development?
Yogi Adityanath: Coronavirus is a global disease. It is totally unfair to associate the CAA issue with it. Both the issues are different in nature. Disease does not differentiate on the basis of caste or religion. Yes, it is a different matter that due to the Tablighi Jamaat, the disease has spread rapidly among many people. Had these people been aware, the number of corona infections in UP would have been very less. The WHO advisory is to maintain social distance so that the chain can be broken. The same appeal is being made by the central and state government to all citizens. The disease will spread fast if you do not follow this guideline. The law is doing its job to protect people. There is no communal discrimination in UP.
Fake news and rumours during the lockdown have led to fatal incidents like lynching in some parts of the country. Has your government taken special measures to contain it?
Yogi Adityanath: A team of 30 police officers is working round the clock to check the spread of fake news. This team tracks the geographic origin of accounts of those posting fake news and creates a database. Police have investigated hundreds of cases so far. The social media team identifies the case and gives it to the district cyber cell. This includes cases of hate speech or fake news. An FIR is being registered in such cases. Accounts on Twitter and Facebook, WhatsApp and Tiktok which are spreading fake news are being blocked.
The state police’s move to travel to Delhi to summon a senior journalist on an FIR against him for a tweet he made had drawn criticism against your government. Your comment?
Yogi Adityanath: The law is taking its course against anyone who is spreading false news, fake news or rumour among the public, no matter who they are. In the time of crisis, the responsibility of journalists increases, and they should give correct information to the public. Criticism on fake facts intended to mislead people is not good. No one has the right to create confusion in society by writing any wrong statement.
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