Meet Bhilwara’s hero: Rajendra Bhatt

Richa Mishra | Updated on April 17, 2020

Setting safeguards: In Bhilwara, 300 retailers are tasked with ensuring people have access to essential supplies

Leading the team: Rajendra Bhatt

A multi-level plan that halted the spread of Covid-19 in a Rajasthan district is being hailed as the Bhilwara model. District magistrate Rajendra Bhatt recounts the steps taken

Rajendra Bhatt is a hero in his neck of the woods — and beyond. The district magistrate, a 2007-batch Indian Administrative Service officer, has been leading his team in the battle against Covid-19 in Rajasthan’s Bhilwara District. The team’s tireless effort — now being referred to as the ‘Bhilwara Model’ — is believed to have helped curb the spread of the novel coronavirus in the region.

That the situation was dire became apparent when a local doctor in the district was found to be Covid-19 positive last month. More and more cases were reported, leading to fears of a community spread. Bhatt, who is slated to retire after he turns 60 next week, says he stepped in with a slew of measures and was duly supported by the state chief minister.

However, his work is far from over, he insists, as he anxiously awaits the end of a 14-day district-wide quarantine, which he hopes will see zero positive cases. “Mission accomplished will be only after a month or so,” he tells BLink. Excerpts from an interview:

The Cabinet secretary is said to have quoted the Bhilwara model to other states. What was your strategy?

I will start at the beginning. There was a positive case, and that too of a doctor. There were about 7,500 people who had visited him in this duration. Apart from this, he was also seeing patients at his home. There was also an anaesthetist (who tested positive). We faced a serious threat of community spread. Overall, the doctors had seen about 12,000 people. There were people from other states and districts who were visiting them.

So, the first step was sealing the boundaries of both the city and the district. We then shared the list of people who visited the affected doctor with other states, so that they could get their people screened. We also requested that railway services to Bhilwara be stopped, which the chief minister (Ashok Gehlot) readily gave permission for. We stopped roadways movement. We successfully isolated the whole district.

We declared the Bangar Memorial Hospital the epicentre, a no-movement zone. Three doctors, 14 nursing staff and two patients of that hospital were infected. We put all of them, and patients who came in contact with them, in complete isolation. We also took over 27 hotels in Bhilwara for the purpose of turning them into quarantine centres. We have home-quarantined about 15,000 people. We have done three screenings in the city.

Screening the entire district wouldn’t have been easy…

We have set up 300 teams to screen the district. We developed these teams as master trainers. We briefed the master trainers about the symptoms of Covid-19 and other matters such as finding out about people who had visited the hospital. It was important to check if there was anybody who had moved out of the state, we told them. These master trainers trained 2,000 other people.

How about the supply of essentials?

We have identified two leading retailers in every area, and 300 in the whole city, and have instructed them that it is their duty to ensure that people get the essentials. The 37 wholesalers supplying stocks to these retailers have been given passes for uninterrupted supplies.

The first phase has ended and the second is on. Has there been any case of virus rebound?

So far, we have not encountered any rebound. It’s only been four or five days since patients were discharged from the hospital. The patients are advised to stay at home for at least another two weeks. Moreover, the patients’ relatives and all those who have come in contact in any way are tested and, if required, quarantined. Hence, there are no chances of exposure to infection again. But I will be able to sleep well only when the 14-day cycle of quarantine, which started on April 3, ends without any positive cases. Mission accomplished will be only after a month or so.

How did you convince the people on the need to follow instructions?

We told the people that this was war. If we don’t do it, our families are going to suffer. It is our duty to save our community, our city, our state and, ultimately, our country. If we didn’t break this chain, it would give Bhilwara a bad name.

Out of the 27 infected, 22 have recovered. Thirteen people have been discharged and are spreading the message that the disease, if treated on time, can be handled well. So, do not hide. Come out and get yourself checked.

How did you ensure that people who had been tested positive were not being stigmatised?

Today, we are seeing a lot of people actually welcoming back those who are returning after defeating the virus. We are educating the people, and they know that those who are discharged are definitely virus-free. As I said, it has been only four or five days since patients have been discharged, and they have been advised to stay home for another two weeks. The situation is global and people are slowly learning about it.

Second, the disease is well managed here and is not in stage 3 — which is community spread. Since the disease is being contained, there is, as such, no stigma attached to it.

The government of Rajasthan has also supported us, so that we do not fall short of anything. The chief minister himself is monitoring all that is happening in the state.

What are the economic implications of the virus?

The lockdown will definitely have economic implications. But the health of the citizens is more important. The economy can be rebuilt.

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Published on April 17, 2020
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