Residents of several villages in Chamoli and Rudraprayag districts of the state found COVID19 positive. Administration swings into action by sealing them. Villagers and experts blame Kumbh Mela, weddings and other festivities for the sudden spike in the cases.
Several hill villages in far flung areas of the state are being declared as a containment zone and sealed. All photos: By arrangement
Four days ago, on May 6, tremors of alarm were felt across the village of Bandun in Uttarakhand. Of the 42 samples that had gone for corona testing from this village in Pauri Garhwal district, 30 turned out to be positive.
The administration swung into action and, a team, under the sub divisional magistrate of Satpuli tehsil, Sandeep Kumar, sealed the village and stationed an ambulance along with a medical team there. The nearest district hospital is at Satpuli, 35 kilometres away.
As the second wave of COVID19 sweeps across the country, an ominous cloud of coronavirus hangs heavy in the mountain state of Uttarakhand. Several hill villages in far flung areas of the state are being declared as a containment zone and sealed. The state has declared a complete lockdown across all the districts till May18.
There is grave concern amongst people as many of the villages in the hilly terrain of the state lack adequate medical infrastructure and the nearest hospital is several kilometres away. Sometimes the villagers have to walk eight to nine kilometres to get to a road head from where they can get transportation to a health facility.
Of the 45,484 corona cases registered in Uttarakhand between April 30 and May 6, nine hill districts in the state have registered 12,521 cases (27.5 per cent), shows the data compiled by Dehradun-based non-profit, Social Development for Communities Foundation.
The foundation has been tracking the COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic last year.
The nine districts are Pauri Garhwal, Tehri Garhwal, Chamoli, Uttarkashi, Champawat, Almora, Pithoragarh, Bageshwar and Rudrarayag. Of these, most fresh cases have been from Pauri Garhwal (2,258 cases), Tehri Garhwal (1,916 cases) and Chamoli (1,553 cases).
Alarmed at the rising COVID-19 cases in Ravigram panchayat of Joshimath block, Chamoli, the district magistrate has declared a 50 metre radius around the Chandika Devi temple as a containment zone. In the past three days, of the 100 samples taken for testing in the village, 18 have been found to be COVID positive.
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Another village, Bainoli in Rudraprayag district, was sealed when 12 positive cases of coronavirus emerged, out of the 52 samples that were tested.
About 65 kilometres away, Dungri village, in Chamoli district, is sealed too after 41 people showed up as COVID 19 positive out of the 83 villagers who were recently tested.
In the same district, at village Sarnachari in Pokhri block in Chamoli, 29 people tested positive out of the 200 whose samples were taken, and the village was declared a containment zone and sealed.
“Almost all the mountain villages have cases of fever that are increasing day by day,” Anand Rana, pradhan of Saranachari told Gaon Connection. While fevers were normal at this time of the year, the spectre of the pandemic was what was spreading fear amongst the people.
“This is the time when the government machinery should be spreading awareness and insisting on people maintaining the COVID-19 protocols,” he said. What was a matter of great concern, Rana said, was that while the fever was spreading, people were unwilling to get tested, fearing what the test results may be.
“It is a fact that fever is spreading rapidly in the villages. Eighty per cent of the inhabitants of the Nijmula valley have fever,” Mohan Negi, district president of the pradhan sangathan, Chamoli told Gaon Connection.
Clearly the virus has spread to the far flung hill villages that lack the health facilities to deal with it.
As per the departmental health bulletin, between May 5 and May 7 last week, in the space of 72 hours, 9,882 people tested positive in Dehradun, the state capital.
As of March 31, the beginning of the Mahakumbh, in Haridwar, Uttarakhand had a total of 1,863 active COVID-19 cases. At the culmination of the festival on April 27, the number of active cases in the state had risen to 43,032.
According to data provided by the state government, since the start of the pandemic in March 2020 up to May 7, 2021, Uttarakhand has registered a total of 238,383 COVID-19 cases, of which more than half the cases (130,000) have been reported between April 1 and May 7, 2021. Of the total 1,863 deaths since the start of the pandemic, 806 people lost their lives to the coronavirus between May 1 and May 7.
When Gaon Connection spoke with several gram pradhans, of the villages that were sealed, it became clear that the pradhans alerted the authorities only when incidence of fevers began going up and the number of COVID 19 positive cases also increased. Many of the gram pradhans were unhappy at the delay in testing and giving the test reports. Some of them said it took nearly a week for the results to be made known to them.
Speaking on the Kumbh Mela, Amit Singh, president, Indian Medical Association (IMA), Dehradun, said, “Authorities delayed in sealing the borders, and facilitating testing in the state and district borders. More so when they were well aware of the double mutant variant that had already shown up in the country. This is one of the reasons why the number of cases have risen so sharply in Uttarakhand,” he said.
Weddings in villages are also being blamed for the sharp spike in the coronavirus cases. “In the early months of the year, Uttarakhand sees a lot of weddings and Shivaratri-related festivals. We also have melas in March and April that last anything between two to six days,” Surendra Dhanetra, district secretary of the district pradhan sangathan, Chamoli, told Gaon Connection.
Dhanetra cited the example of the Baisakhi mela at the Pinder valley of Chamoli region and another grand mela at Karnaprayag, which was attended by many visitors. “Tourists, and migrant workers who returned to the villages just landed up without any testing or following any isolation protocols,” he pointed out.
Amit Singh of IMA said that it is not just the responsibility of the authorities to ensure safety during the pandemic. “It is as much the responsibility of the citizens to observe protocols,curfews and lockdowns,” he said. It is of utmost importance that the people support the government in its endeavours; only then can the corona chain be broken, he added.
Meanwhile, the High Court of Uttarakhand at Nainital, taking cognisance of the shortage of medical staff, on April 29, advised the state government to seek the help of the more than 2,500 registered dentists in the state, to increase the number of corona testing.
Dhanetra revealed that there were other discordant notes too that possibly delayed the response to the second wave in Uttarakhand.
On National Panchayati Raj Day on April 24, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of the crucial contribution of gram pradhans in battling coronavirus. And, indeed, the gram pradhans in many Uttarakhand villages had put their heart and soul into tackling the pandemic when it first broke out last year. But, they say they will not cooperate this year because the state government showed no acknowledgement of their services.
Miffed gram pradhans of Chamoli district submitted a letter to the Block Development Officer, on April 28, addressed to the state chief minister informing him that they would not extend any cooperation to the authorities in the matter of making quarantine arrangements in the village, sanitation matters, etc. This could be another reason why cases are increasing in the upper reaches of Uttarakhand.
“There has been no co-operation between the inhabitants of the villages and the administration,” Samir Dimri of Ravigram village in Chamoli district, told Gaon Connection. “In the earlier days of the pandemic, we used to know if anyone came into the village from outside. We ensured he or she was in quarantine,” Dimri said. He added that this year no precautions were being followed. “There are no testing facilities available at the border of our district and neither do we get information of anyone from outside entering our villages,” he said.
“Last year, gram pradhans had ensured the quarantine centres were efficiently run, protocols were maintained, and they worked day and night, unmindful of the danger of getting infected themselves. Yet they were not acknowledged as ‘corona warriors’,” Dhanetra pointed out. Also, while the government officials who sit in their offices and homes have been vaccinated, these frontline workers were not, he added.
According to Anoop Nautiyal, founder of Social Development for Communities Foundation: “The authorities and the gram pradhans should set aside their differences and work at the ground level.” They should sort out their problems and apply themselves to battling the mounting crisis, he added. “Authorities should provide all support to the gram pradhans so that they don’t feel ignored and at the same time are empowered to do their work,” he told Gaon Connection.
Meanwhile, in Uttarakhand, in the last 24 hours (May 10, till 7 pm), there were 5541 more positive cases, and 168 people lost their lives to the coronavirus in Uttarakhand. According to a health bulletin by the state, 578,296 people have received both doses of vaccination. And the state has commenced vaccinating those over 18 years of age.
Story written and edited by Pankaja Srinivasan.