Assam News – Can the Northeast escape COVID-19 second wave surge?

by Guwahati_City


It has been exactly a month to date that Joyeeta, my wife, lost her battle with the corona virus leaving me alone in the battlefield of life.

We went to the hospital together after some symptoms and losing days due to a false negative report of Covid 19 initially: I came out but she didn’t. She had no comorbidities, was fit and healthy and maintained all protocols and even worked from home.

That should have been the nadir, but it wasn’t. The past month has simply sapped away at the core of our existence, as the nation saw the second wave of Covid 19 run rampant.

The month has seen a deluge of heart-breaking stories as we witnessed the healthcare system get choked and decimated by the pandemic.

We saw people run around scavenging for oxygen and lifesaving drugs or send out panicked SOS on social media to find a hospital bed.

The nation has officially recorded almost 2.8 lakh deaths on account of Covid, and that number judging by the stress on the cremation grounds and the abandoned dead bodies is probably off the mark by a multiple of ten.

A few of them, probably one too many, are my friends and parts of my extended family, as the virus has spread its tentacles into the expanse of north eastern India. 

As someone who worked extensively on the improvement of India Bangladesh and India Myanmar relations from a policy research perspective factoring the interests of the north eastern states of India, the demise of Joyeeta is much beyond my personal loss.

As condolences out poured to me from the various communities from the north eastern regions across the states, I was also reminded of the fact that with the focus of reaching out to neighbouring countries, the north east region remained very important for the nation and as someone who grew up in the region, Joyeeta understood the aspirations and concerns of the communities in this opening up.

Her last lecture was to the officers and staff of the Land Ports Authority of India and she touched on the importance of those infrastructure in reaching out to the neighbours.

Her last trip before the pandemic and lockdown was to Bangladesh when the foreign secretary visited Dhaka in early March 2020. In November 2019, she was in Cox Bazar Bangladesh in a session on improving connectivity for the region which was chaired by the new chief minister of Assam Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma. 

Can the Northeast escape COVID-19 second wave surge? 1

If someone were to ask me, how the two Covid waves differed, I would say the second wave hit us all personally. During the first wave, we were all locked in watching the west get devastated but could never understand the real severity of the virus because we were personally left untouched.

Our only thoughts were on when the lockdown would end and life could go back to normal. This second wave though has touched us all personally.

In the last one month, more than 20 friends and acquaintances have lost their lives to the virus. Every morning, I would get another heart rending news through messages and social media, and after a point of time, just opening my Facebook account filled me with dread.

As my body, battered by the virus, was still not fully recuperated, news of death of loved ones kept my grief flowing over. 

As the virus has started spreading across the north east, with Assam registering close to 7000 cases daily and the death toll growing, the new government in Assam has imposed restrictions on inter-district movement and also time bound curfews.

While a complete lockdown would have been ideal given the exponential rate of growth, the government is wary of taking that step as an already battered economy might not be able to take the weight of any lockdown, forget an extended one.

Much of the impact in the north eastern states is also dependent on how the situation in Assam is as most movement in those states has to happen through Assam and as has been seen in the first wave also it is the people returning to the region from various parts of the country.

In this wave, the point though is that the north east might not see a peak for another two weeks and the escalating number of infected would certainly lead to a collapse in the healthcare system, much like we have witnessed in the rest of the country.

Many of the state government is in an unenviable situation, caught between the devil and the deep sea but are trying their best to ramp up arrangements. 

Closer home, in Barak Valley, the situation is ominous as the districts of CacharHailakandi and Karimganj have been consistently churning out more than 500 new cases daily.

This does not include the rise in the infected population across the villages which have no access to testing facility or oxygen.

The regions over dependence on Silchar Medical College Hospital is established. The fact is that SMCH has a total of 129 ventilator beds which is just not enough to cater to the increasing caseload.

Also, the restrictions on inter district movement can result in large swathes of population being unable to get medical aid. 

We have witnessed how reluctance in enforcing lockdown had driven the state of Delhi into a dark spiral. Same is the case with Karnataka.

It might be a good time for the government to take decisive measures and lockdown the states completely for a couple of weeks without any delay.

Economic resurrection can happen later. But if the pandemic is allowed to rage through the states, we won’t have much of an economy to save. 

Also, the north east is seeing the devastating growth in corona virus cases while the rest of urban India is finally seeing a steady decrease in new caseloads.

We are lucky that we can learn from the lapses of other state governments. We already know what needs priority; oxygen and medicines. A strategic focus on the same coupled with makeshift treatment facilities can see the healthcare system slog through.

At least that would set the pace for some relief to be seen helpless and not ready if the surge happens in an uncontrolled fashion. 

The second wave is a lapse on part of the union government as well as the citizens. The government declared a premature victory and instead of strengthening the health infra or pushing for universal vaccination, both of which would have helped, instead chose to indulge in vaccine diplomacy and allowed mass gatherings to happen for electoral and religious events.

Even in Assam the political rallies and the proximity with which people were bused in to listen to politicians has been one of the worst sights.

The citizens on the other hand forgot the mask or even social distancing unless compelled through penalties. The result has been one of the greatest devastations that India has witnessed in the 74 years of independence.

But it’s still not too late. We need to win this battle because the war against corona is a long way from over. 

Subimal Bhattacharjee is a cyber policy expert and former country head – General Dynamics. Email: [email protected]





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