Yesterday, the state of Assam recorded its first Coronavirus positive case after a 52-year old man tested positive for the novel Wuhan infection. What also seems to have hit the state of Assam insofar the Coronavirus Pandemic is concerned is the fact that 456 people who attended the Tablighi Jamaat international conference at the Nizamuddin Markaz yesterday have returned to the state. Himanta Biswa Sarma in two different tweets disclosed that the Assam government has two lists of 456 such people.
Those who attended the international conference hosted by the Tablighi Jamaat in its global centre at South Delhi’s Nizamuddin area has led to a number of deaths and positive cases across the country. Therefore, Assam is looking at a possible rise in the number of cases in the coming days.
But the state seems well prepared given that the man for the crisis, Northeast Democratic Alliance (NEDA) chairman Himanta Biswa Sarma has been preparing to combat Coronavirus at a war-footing for quite some time now. He happens to be in charge of state’s Health Ministry apart from being the Finance Minister and has discharged the onerous task of preparing Assam for the outbreak quite efficiently.
For the past one month or so, he has taken a number of steps to ensure that the state isn’t caught unawares when Coronavirus outbreak reaches it. The construction of a quarantine facility at the Sarusajai Stadium at Guwahati even as the state government decided to convert the massive stadium into a makeshift hospital is one such example.
Apparently, when China supposedly built the Fangcang Hospital (read “quarantine facility”) in a few days that was used to stuff the “sick” and Coronavirus patients in close vicinity, it had become a part of the larger PR exercise by China and was believed by many on its face value even in India. But here Himanta Biswa Sarma started the construction of a massive isolation facility even before the state recorded a single positive case.
Sarma has been equally active beyond Guwahati, personally visiting hospitals and ensuring that the preparations are on in full swing. In Silchar, a 300-bed pre-fabricated hospital is being constructed and the Assam Health Minister himself visited the site in order to inspect the progress on the project.
He has also ensured that the Silchar Medical College deals exclusively with COVID-19 patients by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the private hospitals. Meanwhile, a new ICU building has come up at the Guwahati Medical College and Hospital.
Similarly, the Sonapur Civil Hospital in Guwahati was reserved for COVID-19 patients a week ago at a time when neither the issue of Tablighi Jamaat conference attendees returning to Assam had come up, nor had the state recorded any positive cases.
The hospital is also being upgraded with 150 beds and 16 ICU beds, all of them dealing exclusively with COVID-19 patients.
Similarly, in Lakhimpur, Himanta Biswa Sarma, who also happens to be described as BJP’s key man in the Northeast, himself reviewed the progress and tweeted, “As we get into a phase which might throw some surprises, critical to ensure best preparedness. I visited North Lakhimpur Civil Hospital to take stock of situation. Also inspected ongoing work of Lakhimpur Medical College. Min @doley_naba Pr Secy Health @samirsinha69 accompanied.”
Meanwhile, Assam has also bolstered its testing capacities under Himanta’s leadership. He disclosed that the state has five ICMR-accredited labs to carry out tests. The Assam Health Minister tweeted, “Happy to inform that Barpeta Medical college laboratory is accredited by ICMR for COVID-19 testing from today. It becomes the 5th lab of Assam to achieve this. This will further enhance our capacity for a much wider community testing, especially in lower Assam.”
Within Assam, his efforts are winning a lot of praise. An advertisement by a private hospital, for example, describes him as “the best Health Minister”. In fact, Assam finds itself in a good position today because it has been led into the fight against Coronavirus by the man who is credited with having revolutionised healthcare in Assam.
Several medical colleges that have come up in the state and those which are in the process of being constructed have been his initiatives. It seems that he has put all his administrative experience in the healthcare sector in preparing Assam for the inevitable fight against Coronavirus.