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Assam prepares for more floods amidst rising Covid cases

Written by Abhishek Saha
| Guwahati |

Updated: June 16, 2020 8:41:11 am

An elderly man, carrying a sack of grain on his head, wades through floodwater to reach a safer place at Tetelisara village in Nagaon district of Assam, Friday, May 29, 2020. (PTI)

As Assam prepares for its annual floods and readies relief camps for the displaced, there is one more thing the government has to account for — the high number of coronavirus cases in the state.

As of Monday afternoon, Assam had reported over 4,100 Covid cases, of which over 2,100 were active. This was in stark contrast to the number on June 5: a total of 2,243 cases.

The state government has issued a set of new guidelines to the districts to provide flood relief while keeping in mind constraints due to the pandemic. The guidelines, a copy of which was accessed by The Indian Express, say, “Ensure 7 sq m of area per person instead of 3.5 sq m to validate social distancing of at least one meter between any two camp inmates.”

The guidelines also state that buildings and spaces which are already in use as quarantine centres for Covid-19 “shall not be identified as relief camps”.

Read | Six killed so far in Assam floods, water begins to recede

Any suspected Covid case in the relief camp will be immediately shifted to designated health facility or quarantine centre, the guidelines say. In case a person under ‘home quarantine’ is evacuated due to floods, she has to be put in a “separate room in a separate building” wherein all guidelines have to be followed.

In late May, Assam saw the first wave of floods that affected more than two lakh people. At least 30 people had lost their lives due to floods and landslides. However, those floods were limited —both geographically and impact-wise.

There is a fear that Assam may see more floods in the coming weeks. According to officials at the Regional Meteorological Centre in Guwahati, moderate rains and thunderstorms are predicted across the state throughout the current week.

Varnali Deka, the District Collector of Goalpara — one of the worst-hit districts in the May floods — said, “Every year Assam faces floods and people are lodged in relief camps. This year, along with the usual measures, we also have to implement adequate safety measures against Covid in the relief camps.”

She explained that the Goalpara district administration has worked out particular intake capacity for each designated relief camp. “Once the camp reaches the particular capacity, the in-charge nodal officer will alert the circle officer, who will inform people that they have to be taken to the next camp. We will provide the transportation by boat or by vehicle,” she said.

“Washroom and toilet facilities are enhanced; hands and mask sanitiser are being provided adequately in each camp. Moreover, we are working out separate areas in camps for the children and elderly in the relief camps so that they do not have to come in contact with the younger persons,” Deka added.

Three people were killed in Nagaon district in the first wave. But district administration officials said there was no need to shelter people in relief camps as most chose to stay on highlands and embankments near their homes.

“We are preparing both ways — first, how to maintain all Covid protocols in our relief distribution mechanisms, because many people will chose not to be in relief camps and second, how to ensure social distancing and other norms in relief camps as per the government guidelines,” said Nagaon DC Jadav Saikia.

Anant Lal Gyani, the DC of Dhubri, which routinely bears the brunt of floods and river erosion, said Covid quarantine centres and flood relief camps are completely separate. “As of now, there is more than sufficient capacity of quarantine facility in the district. Moreover, there are starches of highland areas and schools identified for flood relief. In the flood relief camps, there will be a reduction in number of people in each camp to ensure social distancing,” Gyani said.

Jeevan B, the DC of Lakhimpur district, which lies in the northern bank of the Brahmaputra, said that a large section of people in flood-affected areas reside in ‘chang ghars’ — houses on raised stilts. Hence, the district administration has to be efficient in providing relief materials to these people through boats or whatever means possible and ensure that there is no spread of the coronavirus in the process.

Nonetheless, the DC stated that relief camps have also been adequately identified. “The number of persons permitted per camp has halved to maintain social distancing — and hence, the number of camps will go up,” he added.

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