Cyclone Amphan: Rescue operations hampered because of Covid fears
Rescuers had a tough time convincing many people to move to shelters in Odisha and West Bengal before Cyclone Amphan tore into eastern India and Bangladesh on Wednesday because of fears of contracting Covid-19.Updated: May 21, 2020 04:18 IST
Rescuers had a tough time convincing many people to move to shelters in Odisha and West Bengal before Cyclone Amphan tore into eastern India and Bangladesh on Wednesday because of fears of contracting Covid-19.
Authorities in West Bengal said they were even forced to resort to force in some cases to evacuate people as some of them insisted they would rather die in their own houses than risk contracting the infection in the shelters. “There were some people who refused to move to cyclone shelters. We first tried to convince them. When it did not work, we used force,” said an official in South 24 Parganas district.
Officials said there were hardly any Covid-19 patients in remote coastal villages in the state from where around 300,000 people have been were evacuated. They added enforcing the directives to avoid Covid-19 spread in the shelters will be challenging.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday warned officials would try to enforce social distancing in the shelters, but it may not be possible as the priority will be to save lives from the cyclone.
Some cyclone shelters are being used exclusively as quarantine centres for migrant workers returning from other states. The administration has also earmarked hundreds of school and colleges to accommodate the evacuees and stocked them with masks and sanitizers.
South 24 Parganas district magistrate P Ulaganathan said nodal officers have been deputed for each shelter and frontline workers have been equipped with personal protection equipment in view of the pandemic.
His East Midnapore counterpart, Partha Ghosh, said to ensure that social distancing is maintained, they spread the evacuees across over nearly 600 schools and colleges.
The evacuation process was particularly challenging in Odisha, which has reported a surge in Covid-19 infections with 70-80 fresh cases daily.
The government initially estimated that 1.1 million people across 12 districts needed to be relocated, but it revised its figures after India Meteorological Department said only Balasore, Bhadrak, Kendrapara and Jagatsinghpur may be affected.
The authorities had earlier turned some multi-purpose cyclone shelters into quarantine centres. But as the cyclone approached, suspected patients with no symptoms were asked to stay under home quarantine. “Those shelters were then sanitised and used for cyclone evacuees,” said an official on condition of anonymity.
Odisha has earmarked about 600 cyclone shelters and 7,000 other buildings for the evacuees from coastal areas. Officials said many resisted evacuation in Covid 19 red zone of Balasore citing concerns over social distancing measures. “Some families in the Talasari area, where the cyclone was initially expected to land, did not want to move. We had to advice them to at least shift to a neighbour’s concrete house,” said an official.
Bhadrak district collector Gyana Ranjan Das said they managed to shift over 31,000 people to over 500 shelters with social distancing measures in place with great difficulty. “We also had to ensure that no migrant workers returning from various states were walking when Cyclone Amphan moved across the Odisha coast.”