Tourists at Kufri after a fresh spell of snowfall in November after the Himachal government lifted all curbs on visitor arrivals.(Deepak Sansta/HT Photo)
Tourists at Kufri after a fresh spell of snowfall in November after the Himachal government lifted all curbs on visitor arrivals.(Deepak Sansta/HT Photo)

How HP lost control over Covid battle

More than 12,300 cases and 238 fatalities were recorded this month as compared to the previous highest tally of 8,938 cases in September since the outbreak.
By Gaurav Bisht/Naresh K Thakur | Hindustan Times, Shimla, Shimla/dharamshala
UPDATED ON NOV 25, 2020 01:32 AM IST

Until October the Covid-19 situation in Himachal Pradesh seemed to be under control with the recovery rate well above 86% and new infections decreasing.

By November, however, things changed and the third wave hit the state.

More than 12,300 cases and 238 fatalities were recorded this month as compared to the previous highest tally of 8,938 cases in September since the outbreak.

The recovery rate also slipped below 80%.

HP now has the highest ratio of active cases in terms of population in the country and also the highest positivity rate.

Four of its districts are among the top 10 in India with the highest infection rate.

Safety norms disregarded

The state government as well as the people are to be blamed for the problem, with the former taking decisions recklessly and the latter disregarding safety norms.

“There was carelessness in following the Covid-19 protocol, which is why the Himsuraksha Abhiyan for information, education and communication has been launched,” said Amitabh Awasthi, secretary (health).

However, there was no shortage of oxygen cylinders in the hospital, except for one day when the vehicle carrying cylinders had an accident, he added.

Nearly eight months down the line since the outbreak, Awasthi says makeshift hospitals will now come up within 10 to 15 days.

Sanjay Chauhan, former Shimla mayor and CPI(M) leader, however, blamed “lack of proper health services” for the Covid19 cases and deaths. “Now the situation is going beyond control and may create havoc if not controlled in time. Without wasting any time the government should chalk out a war like strategy and form a task force under capable leadership consisting of health and other experts.”

Super spreader events

For the public, it was as if the virus did not exist as social gatherings, mainly marriages, turned into super spreader events with people refusing to follow social distancing norms, even as the ceiling on numbers of attendees was removed.

“There is no coordination between the government and leaders. The government adopted double standards on social distancing when it came to marriages, where they restricted guests from attending. But there were no rules for BJP rallies,” said Kuldeep Singh Rathore, president of the Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee.

Large crowds gathered at the political rallies, the recent one held in Bilaspur where BJP national president JP Nadda addressed party workers. Chief minister Jai Ram Thakur, instead of focusing on controlling the pandemic, remained busy with public meetings and tours across the state.

No social distancing norms were followed by the political leaders and the party workers.

The festive season too led to a spike as crowds thronged the markets, without following safety rules.

Earlier, bazaars were being sanitised. This stopped.

The government decision to open schools for regular classes also backfired. A large number of teachers and students were infected and educational institutions closed within a week of reopening.

No check on tourists

There were no controls on tourist arrivals during festivals and weekends, which added to the spread, especially in Lahaul-Spiti district. “It opened the floodgates for the virus in Himachal. There is no check on tourists coming to the state and they were allowed to visit places that did not have infections,” added Rathore.

The state government also allowed buses to ply with 100% occupancy and also resumed inter-state bus services .

Registration and quarantining of people from coming from other states was also done away with, making detection and tracing difficult.

Course correction

Scrambling to contain the Covid-19 spread the state government has now imposed fresh curbs. School and educational institutions will remain closed till the year end. The buses will ply with 50% occupancy. All the political rallies have been cancelled till December 15.

Cancelling the winter session of the state assembly is also being considered. It’s slated for December 7 to 12 at Dharamshala.

But will this be too little too late?

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