Assam government on Saturday has planned to boost its screening and testing capacities after estimating that around 20 lakh people from the state are in other states who might head back home. Authorities urged those who do not have a very pressing reason to return to the state to stay put where they are. The persons who do not return — or find it difficult to return due to logistical problems — would be given a financial assistance of Rs 2000 per month.
Assam health and finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said from May 5, health department has decided to send one doctor each to every village of the state, within a span of 20 days, to screen people for influenza like infection and respiratory diseases. Sarma was speaking at an interactive meeting with journalists and editors chaired by Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal. Sarma stressed on the need to increase the testing capacity of the state to around 5,000 a day to meet the return of its residents with the ease of lockdown.
Around 11,000 samples have been tested in Assam as of now. Of the 42 patients who reported positive in the state till now, 32 have recovered and discharged, while one patient died and nine are being treated. Apart from the currently six government labs that are testing Covid-19, private labs in Assam are being encouraged to start testing facilities so that the state’s testing capacity goes up.
“Once people who are now outside start returning testing requirement will increase manifold,” Sarma said later in the day at a press conference in Guwahati highlighting how the state’s testing capacity needs to be increased to meet the influx.
Sarma said that it was not possible for any state government to get 20 lakh people back at once — and hence the first chance should be given to those who have an immediate reason to return. Apart from the physical exhaustion of long travel, Sarma argued, people who return would be put into 14 days of quarantine.
“But the state government wont put any restriction, because everyone has the right to come back to own’s own state. But I request, if you are in hotspot, if the factory where you are working re-starts, or if the shop where you work starts again, if your office starts functioning again, then can you please wait for 30-35 more days… I leave the judgement on people,” Sarma said.
The government announced helpline numbers where the stranded people can give a missed call to let officials know that they want to return to Assam. The numbers which give the missed calls would be sent a weblink by 48 hours, Sarma said. People have to update their return details on the link.
Sarma said that for the state government to make the necessary arrangements for the return of those people who are not able to make arrangements themselves will take time. “Say we have 1 lakh people in Karnataka and say we get a train to Bangalore. Then in one go, only 1000 people can return, so the train has to travel 100 times…It’s a tough job, it will take time.”
A mechanism will be put in place to screen the incoming people at an outpost on the Assam-West Bengal border. Returnees will be segregated according to their heath screening results and issued passes for their non-stop travel to where the quarantine facilities are located.
Meanwhile, the state government will open the state’s borders with the six other Northeastern states, excluding Sikkim, for its stranded residents to return from Sunday morning, Sarma announced, adding that returnees will be subjected to health screening at the borders and then be quarantined if required.