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With 3,100 islanders set to return, Covid fears grip Andamans

Maitri Porecha New Delhi | Updated on May 22, 2020 Published on May 17, 2020

In the Andamans, the government has proposed setting up eco-tourism resorts in Aves, Long and Smith Islands R Ravindran

Islands remain virus-free with successful handling of 33 positive cases

Over the past ten days, no new cases of Covid-19 have been reported in the Andaman and Nicobar (A&N) Islands and the Union Territory is virus-free with the successful treatment of all the 33 positive cases reported earlier.

However, Avijit Roy, Deputy Director (Health), A&N Islands, feels the respite is temporary as over 3,100 islanders currently stranded in the mainland are expected to return to the islands via Chennai, Visakhapatnam and Kolkata this week.

“The ships will set sail from the mainland at 50 per cent of their capacity carrying locals who were stranded there before the lockdown,” Roy told Businessline.

Apprehensions

Roy is worried about the danger of the situation spinning out of control. The islands, with a population of nearly 4 lakh, have only 228 hospital beds, with 40 of them equipped with oxygen and 16 with ventilators. The South Andamans district has a dozen ventilators while North and Middle Andamans have only two.

In the earlier phase, the UT administration had quarantined over 1,200 suspected cases and passengers from the mainland in hotels with the money from its disaster management fund. Roy says there is an acute fund crunch now. Hotels charge ₹1,000 to ₹1,350 for a room daily.

“The accommodation is free only for people below the poverty line and government employees that test positive,” he said. “We have the capacity to test 500 samples a day and have up to 6,280 RNA extraction kits and 9224 RT-PCR kits.”

33 positive cases

The island administration has conducted 6,373 tests till date, of which 33 were positive, including 21 males and 12 females. All survived. The initial 10 patients were locals who had attended a religious congregation in Delhi and returned to the islands before the lockdown.

“While they were identified, a local woman who had visited Chennai turned positive on the 14th day of her return on April 7,” Roy said.

Up to 22 new cases were picked up during community surveillance. “A team of over 600 workers kept surveillance in the first week of April, We first picked up a driver in the police department from Bambooflat near Port Blair. His wife, father, sister-in-law and 18 other contacts, including a police commando, later tested positive,” Roy said.

The brother of the police driver in Bambooflat had visited Parry’s Corner in Chennai on March 21, which has a high case load. “His brother, however, tested negative. He must have been asymptomatic,” Roy said.

In fact, up to 27 positive individuals in A&N showed no symptoms and six had comorbid conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes. “Up to 81 per cent positive persons are asymptomatic. We were worried about the prospects of recovery of a 64-year-old and a 71-year-old who had diabetes and Hepatitis B respectively, but they tested negative after 14 days, which was a relief. We have been able to avert deaths till date,” Roy said.

Saving the tribes

The island administration was extra vigilant not to let the virus spread to remote islands with high concentration of indigenous tribes and virtually non-existent health infrastructure.

“On completion of 14 days of mandatory quarantine and testing negative, we extended the quarantine for patients by 14 more days. Thus, we kept them in observation for 28 days to rule out any relapse. We confined those returning from the mainland, or those tested positive to Port Blair as a precautionary measure,” he said.

Published on May 17, 2020

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