The second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has deeply affected all Indian states and Union Territories, and the North-East region has been no exception. Due to issues such as lack of infrastructure and human resources, both rural and urban citizens were caged in the web of grief and misery wherein, even to see for the last time one’s loved one who succumbed to Covid became an act of privilege.
Focusing on rural realities around the country during the pandemic, the Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS)and Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, organised a panel discussion on ‘‘Rural Realities | North East Practitioners’ Experiences in Tackling the Second Wave in Indian Villages’ on May 16, 2021.
This article is an excerpt of the presentation given by Indranuj Pathak and the IMPRI team, who provided an overview of the Covid-19 situation in India with special reference to the region of North-East to set the context for the broader discussion on the topic by the esteemed panellists.
The North-East, as we know, holds strategic importance in India as it is connected to the mainland with a small chicken neck corridor of 22 km. It contributes to the country’s economy and provides access to natural resources.
It comprises eight states: Sikkim, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur and Tripura. The region shares international boundaries to the North with China, to the North West with Bhutan, and to the East with Myanmar.
Assam ranks highest in the region, with more than 80% of the population housed in rural area, and Mizoram has less than 50% of the population residing in rural areas. Meghalaya has the highest sex ratio in the region at 989, while Sikkim has the lowest sex ratio, well below the nation average at 890. Arunachal Pradesh has the lowest literacy rate in the region at 65% and Mizoram ranks highest with 91% literate population.
Sikkim tops the region and is second in the country, both in terms of Sustainable Development Goals and the per capita income. Manipur has the lowest rank according to per capita income, ranking 30 in the nation, and Mizoram performs poorly in the Sustainable Development Goals, ranking 25 in the country.
As of March 13, 2021, total Covid-19 cases in the region were 4.78 lakhs and total deaths were 3,809. Assam had an affected population of approximately 3 lakh due to Covid-19. The first wave hit the region in September. The new variant, local festivals and elections led to the rise in cases and the second wave in the region. Arunachal Pradesh has approximately 21,000 people who were affected by the second wave. Manipur faced a similar fate.
Tripura is the second-most affected state in the region. Meghalaya has been affected less in terms of percentage of population. Due to opened tourism, cases reached 22,000 that was previously unimagined in the region. Mizoram has an affected population of 8,499. Sikkim’s management was hailed as a model because it was one of the last states to get affected in the first wave.
On May 12, 2021, the Assam government ordered shutting down of all offices, religious places and weekly markets for 15 days in urban and semi-urban areas of the state, besides banning people’s movement from 2 pm to 5 am in the wake of the rising Covid-19 cases. Seventy one people died of Covid-19 in the State on May 12, 2021, while 5,657 new positive cases were reported. The Covid-19 positivity rate in the State was at 8.8% during this period. The State Health Department, like in other states, prioritised second dose beneficiaries in order to ensure that they get the second jab on time.
Meghalaya continued to report over 400 fresh cases for the fourth straight day on May 12, 2021, while eight more fatalities on the day pushed the death toll to 250. The state also recorded 314 recoveries taking the number of people discharged to 17,354. The Meghalaya government is unhappy with the poor response of people over 45 years of age towards the Covid vaccination drive.
Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong told reporters after a review meeting on May 12 that the vaccination coverage for the targeted group stands at a mere 37-38%.
Nagaland registered the highest single-day spike of 338 new cases and nine deaths on May 12, 2021. Active cases were 3,297 while a tally going up to 16,890. Summer break of both government and private schools have extended till May 21. The School Education Department order says the decision taken in view of the current pandemic situation. Regional Ayurveda Centre, Dimapur, began distribution of AYUSH 64 tablets to Covid patients under home isolation. Distribution continued for 20 days.
Lives and livelihood in the North Eastern States have been deeply impacted. With tourism taking a hit and cities being closed to contain the pandemic the economy of the states is in turmoil.
The CoWin application seems to be not working amongst many users. Secondly, glitches in the website have been reported while entering the security code even if vaccine spots were available. There also exists a digital divide between the digitally literate and illiterate, and the underserved.
Public places such as railway stations, bus terminals are not adequately sanitised as per the guidelines and thus lead to the spreading of the virus. Along with this, the public has not been following the mandates given by the administration. No accountability of relief funds is also making it difficult to understand and acknowledge relief management.
Social media has been a great tool in the region and minute-to-minute information was disseminated among people though social media sites. Some administrative measures in the region include Corona Pratinidhi Dol, which was to make space for community participation at the grassroots level in Assam.
Antflip, an online delivery application, directly joins suppliers with consumers. Arunachal Pradesh provided telemedicine services and set up call centres. The North-East region is facing an eminent vaccine shortage and the CoWin application has experienced too many glitches in the region.
Stricter penalties for those violating effective implementation of Covid protocols is needed in order to minimise the impact of the second wave and prepare for a third wave. Issues of lack of oxygen, health infrastructure and vaccination, which have also added to the financial burden on most rural as well as urban households, need to be addressed in moving towards a healthy and prosperous North-East region.
YouTube Video for Practitioners’ Experiences in Tackling the Second Wave in North East
Contributions By: Ritika Gupta, Sakshi Sharda, Ishika Chaudhary, Indranuj Pathak, Mahima Kapoor, Swati Solanki, Chhavi Kapoor, Arjun Kumar and the IMPRI Team