Aditi Singh is District Magistrate of Hapur district in Uttar Pradesh, which has so far escaped the worst ravages of COVID-19. In an email interview with The Hindu , Ms. Singh provides a picture of what governance amounts to on the ground in the days of the pandemic. Excerpts
Hapur has reported few COVID-19 cases so far. Why is the figure so low in Hapur when it is close to hotspots like Meerut and Noida?
At present, Hapur has 16 confirmed positive cases with eight hotspots. From the second week of March, we were receiving information from the State health department and local sources regarding people with foreign travel history. In the last five weeks, 150 persons were actively tracked, examined by medical teams and home quarantined for 14 days. To prevent violation, notices were pasted outside their homes with names and dates of persons quarantined to generate social awareness and pressure and discouraging them from leaving their homes during quarantine period. In case of repeat violators, stricter legal measures were adopted such as registering FIRs, one in Garh and three in Hapur tehsils respectively.
Forty mobile medical teams have been proactively surveying urban and rural areas for inter-State and inter-district travellers leading to the tracking and home quarantine of 6,673 persons in the last four-five weeks.
Further, active surveillance of persons under home quarantine is being done over phone through temporary call centres set up at the district level. Also, urban local bodies and panchayat raj sanitation workers have been instructed to dispose of household waste from all quarantined homes as bio-medical waste after segregation. Intensive sanitisation with hypochlorite solution is being done across district by local bodies.
What are the profiles of these cases? Have you done contact tracing?
All nine positive cases are of male patients ranging from ages 15-71 who belong to cluster from a religious gathering in New Delhi. So far, 72 persons have been traced in the district from this congregation. A total of 343 of their contacts were traced by us through local sources and surveillance techniques. Of these, 140 high-risk contacts have been kept in hospital quarantine wards and 203 low risk contacts are in tehsil quarantine centres.
How is the administration providing door-to-door services in the hotspots? Are you facing any challenges in that given that U.P. has dense populations and stretched administration?
At present, we have eight hotspots where doorstep delivery of food, medicines and other essential commodities is being done through district supply office, food safety and drug administration office, and mandi parishad. A total of 40 PDS ration dealers, 173 people for delivering milk, and 367 mobile vans, e-rickshaws, tractors, and hand drawn carts are being utilised to deliver fruits, vegetables, medicines and other essential items. Magistrates and police force have to be deployed to regulate public activities and ensure social distancing which is a challenge. Some streets in city area being very narrow also pose a challenge in delivering foodgrains.
On Monday, there was a video circulated of a weeping old woman not getting food in the Hapur collectorate. Following some TV reports, the administration provided food to her. Was there some kind of a lapse in the system? How are you ensuring that the poor, homeless and unemployed get fed?
On Monday, a group of women including Dharmawati (woman shown in video), Usha, Riya and their family members who reside in a locality called Ganeshpura in Hapur city had gone to SDM Hapur’s office in Hapur Nagar Palika premises. According to SDM Hapur, they came around 10 a.m. and spoke to a home guard named Ramreek, posted in Commandant Home Guards’ office asking for food. He informed them that cooked food arrives there between 11 a.m. and12 noon and will be provided by tehsil authorities then. Meanwhile, there were some mediapersons observing this exchange who took the group of women aside and recorded their interview. Both SDM and Tehsildar Hapur were in field during this time ensuring containment activity in hotspots. When the matter came to knowledge of Tehsil authorities around 12 noon, Tehsildar Hapur promptly reached the spot and provided cooked food packets which had by then been prepared. Additionally, both SDM and Tahsildar Hapur were sent by me to Dharmawati’s house in the afternoon to provide dry ration packets to her and her neighbour, which will be replenished as per requirement.
For homeless persons, four shelter homes one in each urban local body have been set up. Officials have been asked to carry out a daily survey and ensure no homeless persons are left sleeping on footpaths or in railway/bus stations. Till now, 35 homeless persons have been shifted to Hapur and Garh Nagarpalika shelter homes where their daily medical check up is conducted and food is being provided.
For poor and unemployed persons, five community kitchens are being run by district authorities and nine NGOs have been permitted to distribute cooked food packets and dry rations. A total of 1,36,789 food packets have been distributed in the district since March 26. Of these about 90,000 food packets have been distributed with help of civil society groups.
Additionally, the State government had announced direct beneficiary transfer of ₹1,000 per month to registered workers of the labour department and unemployed daily wagers living in cities. Under these schemes, we’ve covered 7,843 and 6,012 persons in both categories respectively during lockdown and are continuing to add more beneficiaries. Also, free ration is being provided to 25,577 beneficiaries including MGNREGS cardholders for next three months. We also have a district control room functioning 24x7 in Collectorate where public can register any complaint through helpline number-0122-2304834.
Are any of the positive cases in Hapur linked to the migrants who came from Delhi and other States?
Have there been any incidents of migrants kept under quarantine leaving from these centres? There have been such reports from Azamgarh, Rae Bareli, Sitapur, Sultanpur and other districts. What is the reason, according to you? And what are you doing to ensure such things don't take place here?
When migrants started moving out from Delhi NCR on March 24 evening after the announcement of the lockdown, we received instructions from the State government that no migrant workers should be left stranded and to facilitate them in reaching their homes. A total of 12,157 migrants who were on foot were ferried by us through UPSRTC buses between March 25-29. At present, there are no migrant workers staying in our tehsil quarantine centres.
However, we do get information from time to time regarding migrant workers from other States living within factory premises in industrial areas of district. In such cases, officers are sent to enquire about their well-being and provided food as per their requirement either by administration or factory owners.
Are the quarantine centres well-equipped? The additional chief secretary home had said DM's could change food menus and even install TVs for entertainment. Anything on the cards in Hapur?
At present, our six quarantine centres have 203 low-risk contacts of positive patients. These are being run in educational institutions, which we have temporarily acquired for this purpose. They are regularly inspected by me and subordinate officers to check quality of food being served, sanitation, electricity supply, supply of personal hygiene items and we speak to them to further ascertain their requirements. Also, round the clock magisterial and police duties have been deployed to prevent any untoward incidents.
In case of a sudden spurt in cases, is the district medical system well-equipped to deal with it in terms of isolation beds, PPEs and ventilators?
In order to gear up our healthcare system, we’ve converted Community Health Centre, Hapur, into a 30-bed facility with trained medical personnel. District Hospital has a 100 bed [CHC-level] attached facility for asymptomatic positive cases. Three private medical colleges of district have readied 50 isolation beds, 87 ICU beds, and 698 quarantine beds. Fifty-one ventilators and 464 PPE kits, 2408 N95 masks, 11,119 gloves, 10,744 triple layer masks, 2,671 hand sanitisers are currently available with health department. All health personnel and quarantined persons exposed to positive cases are being administered prophylactic dose of hydroxychloroquin phosphate. Timely supply of VTM [Viral Transport Medium] and PPE kits have to be closely monitored due to high demand. We’re trying to enhance our testing capacity for better containment.
This pandemic cannot be combated without active and meaningful cooperation between government and civil society. Any person in the district who either needs food or has not got the benefits as per eligibility can approach the district administration and their grievances would be addressed swiftly.