Political, religious leaders form part of containment plan

With a bulk of COVID-19 cases being reported from urban settlements, the government has suggested that additional manpower be deployed in these areas and local political and religious leaders be roped in for communicating prevention measures.

It has also decided to identify an “incident commander” in urban settlements, who will be tasked with planning, operation, logistics and finance to implement an incident response system. The commander will report to the municipal commissioner.

In a document, the Health Ministry says these settlements have poor living conditions, and are often overcrowded, with many crammed into very small living spaces. Hence, physical distancing, isolation and communication of the risk of infectious respiratory diseases to the dwellers could be challenging. So the urban local bodies need to prepare for responding to an outbreak.

The document sets forth guidelines for preparedness and response to COVID-19 in urban settlements. “Community groups are key to creating awareness of COVID among these populations. Use of local (political, religious and opinion) leaders for communicating all aspects of the COVID prevention and control is vital as dwellers are more inclined to trust them,” it reads.

The trained manpower, available on www.covidwarriors.gov.in, will be contacted for their readiness for deployment at short notice.

The document says a coordination committee will be formed under the leadership of the “incident commander” and will comprise representatives of the Departments of Health and Women and Child Development, elected representatives and NGOs serving in the area. It calls for measures to address psycho-social and stigma issues in local languages, put up posters outside community toilets and water points and use cable television channels to create awareness.

Social media should be used for delivering appropriate messages to these population and for refuting fake news. Community groups should popularise the Aarogya Setu application, it said.

The document was released on Saturday as Health Secretary Preeti Sudan, Rajesh Bhushan, OSD, Health Ministry, and other senior officials held a review meeting with the Principal Health Secretaries, the Municipal Commissioners and the District Magistrates from the 30 municipal areas accounting for almost 80% of India’s COVID-19 cases.

These municipal areas are Brihan Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata, Jaipur, Nashik, Jodhpur, Agra, Greater Chennai, Ahmedabad, Thane, all Delhi MCs, Indore, Howrah, Kurnool, Bhopal, Amritsar, Villupuram, Vadodara, Udaipur, Tiruvallur, Aurangabad, Cuddalore, Greater Hyderabad, Surat, Chengalpattu, Ariyalur, Palghar, Berhampur, Solapur and Meerut.

The document says the surveillance system will be strengthened in these areas and a strict perimeter control maintained in containment zones, with Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code enforced to ensure people stay indoors. It acknowledges that the disease surveillance system in most cities or towns is not so well organised, especially in urban settlements, as it is in rural areas.

According to the 2011 census, there are 2,613 towns or cities with such settlements. Nearly 6.54 crore people reside in 1.39 crore households in these areas, representing 17.4 of all urban population.

The Health Ministry has also brought out two updated containment plan documents: one for large outbreaks (15 or more cases) and the other for the rest. According to the plan for large outbreaks, a geographic quarantine or near-absolute interruption of the movement of people will be applicable to such areas and a strict perimeter control will be applied to containment zones with an active search for cases through house-to-house surveillance.

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