‘Took it head-on’: IAS officer Tina Dabi on how Bhilwara model for Covid-19 worked
Rajasthan’s Bhilwara was one of the first Covid-19 clusters to emerge in the country and was put under complete lockdown by the state and district authorities to contain the spread of coronavirus.
From becoming the coronavirus hotspot, Bhilwara, about 250 km south of state capital Jaipur, is now being talked about its ‘ruthless containment’ model as administrations elsewhere are following the steps taken by the district’s authorities.
Tina Dabi, the 26-year-old Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer and a part of the team that handled the situation, spoke to Hindustan Times’ national political editor Sunetra Choudhury about how things turned around.
Dabi said one of the first things the team did was to isolate the district and make sure people were taken into confidence.
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“Even we were taken aback that we would be compared with Italy and described as the coronavirus hotspot. Preparations were in place like any other place in the country and basic measures were in place,” Dabi, who has been Bhilwara’s sub-divisional magistrate from October 2018, said.
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“On March 19, we got our first positive case and it was on March 20 we connected the dot and we found out that it was one whole private hospital that could be the epicentre of the whole crisis,” she said.
The young IAS officer was talking about the Brijesh Banger Memorial Hospital (BBMH) whose doctors and staff were the first ones to test positive in the area. The district administration decided right away for a complete shutdown and Bhilwara was sealed off, much before the nationwide lockdown on March 25.
“Within a matter of two hours, the collector of the district Rajendra Bhatt took the very stern and firm decision that we need to go for a curfew and we need to go for a complete shutdown,” she said.
Dabi said as soon as the order was passed and she went around the whole city, “shutting everything down, convincing people, even scolding a few people, requesting and persuading them telling them not to panic”.
“And, within a day or two we had to work out all the system to ensure that people are not inconvenienced,” she said.
The 2016 batch IAS office said it wasn’t smooth sailing for the team looking to wage a war against the coronavirus disease.
“For the first three-four days, we were receiving panic calls from everywhere in the city and district…We had to tackle so many things but we always took it as a matter of pride that we are doing national service and it is a time of public health emergency and no matter how hard it gets we have to take it head on,” she said.
“We had just one mission in mind and we had just one target that we just need to stop it … We were sitting on a ticking time bomb where it could reach any number. There was actually a possibility of massive community spreading,” she added.
The administration had to ensure door to door supply so that people understood the danger at hand and they managed.
“It took a week... People won’t cooperate if you don’t take care of the essential services and working that out was a nightmare for my district collector and the entire team but we worked really well under his leadership.”
One of the most challenging things during the implementation of the containment, Dabi said was to handle cases where people were very emotional. She said students stuck in the city and their worried parents were among such people.
“When people are emotional it’s very difficult to make them understand that these are tough times and they really need to understand that,” she said.
The IAS officer is all about extending the nationwide lockdown put in place from March 25 to April 14.
“I am saying this because we really don’t know the current status of the virus and how it’s going to pan out. We must accept that we are slightly clueless about it. But what we are really sure is that social distancing is what can really, really avert the crisis. And for social distancing, the thing which can only be done administratively is going for lockdown and shutdown,” she said.
The Bhilwara model was successful because they ensured it was implemented ‘very well’ despite the many problems on the ground level.
“Everybody was scared about Bhilwara and now everybody is appreciating it… We convinced the public though it took a short while of three to five days now they are cooperating,” she said.
“They finally understood that it was for their own good.”
For that to happen, the administration had to make sure that the essential supplies and services were kept running.
“Without this in place, people would never cooperate, your lockdown measures will fail within a day or two. And then it will be of no use,” she said.
Dabi also had a word of caution. “You have to also ensure that if there is an emergency…you have to consider those cases on a case by case basis. Of course, there might be some exigencies you can’t avert your eyes from that. You have to keep yourself open to that possibility.”
Handling the situation in Bhilwara, Dabi said, will be one of the challenging assignments and a lifetime opportunity.
“We never get this opportunity to serve so many people to handle a crisis of this magnitude. I think the Iearning experience that is going to come from it is going to be very rewarding for me though out my career and I am looking at it as a matter of pride.”