Faced with an unprecedented rise in coronavirus cases – nearly 1.9 lakh have been registered in the last 72 hours – the centre wrote to states and union territories on Tuesday, urging them to “enlist the support of representatives selected by election… and religious leaders to ensure Covid-appropriate actions.”
The order, which is part of a multi-point “action plan” to contain the epidemic until it “overwhelms healthcare systems,” comes as political leaders prepare for five Assembly election in March-April, during which social distancing is missing and face masks are mostly removed.
“Covid-appropriate behaviour must be enforced using the Police Act… besides elected representatives, local influencers, celebrities, religious leaders should be roped in to ensure Covid-appropriate behaviour,” Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote in that letter.
However, “elected representatives” – who have also been directed by the Election Commission to ensure Covid protocols are followed at their events – seem not to be overly concerned.
Home Minister Amit Shah conducted a roadshow in Nandigram, Bengal, this morning, the site of a bitter feud between former Trinamool MLA Suvendu Adhikari and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
The open-top bus carrying Mr Shah squeaked past an ocean of BJP supporters packed as tightly as sardines in a tin can, with many of them wearing no masks, according to images from news agency ANI.
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When questioned about the obvious disregard for the rules at that event, Mr Adhikari simply said, “Please ask the Election Commission,” before stepping away.
At political rallies, the Election Commission has issued rules regarding the violation of social distancing and the wearing of face masks, especially by political leaders.
Meanwhile, today’s letter also included a warning to “districts with high caseloads. These must have 100 percent saturation (of) vaccination of priority age group (those over 45) in the next two weeks.”
The Health Ministry listed the ten districts with the highest number of active Covid cases during a press conference earlier today. Pune (59,475), Mumbai (46,248), Nagpur (45,322), Thane (35,264), Nashik (26,553), and Aurangabad (21,282), all in Maharashtra, rounded out the top six.
The Health Secretary’s letter outlined a number of steps that authorities at the district level should take, including implementing Covid-appropriate actions, enhancing quarantining and isolation procedures, and improving and speeding up the tracing of at least 25-30 infected individuals’ contacts.
“Any complacency at this stage, and at any level, will have heavy costs…” the letter warned.