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Before lockdown relaxation, states confused over Centre’s Red, Green, Orange classifications

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Delhi Police personnel stand guard at Model Town police colony, identified as a Covid-19 hotspot, during the on 16 April 2020 | Kamal Kishore | PTI
(Representational Image) Delhi Police personnel stand guard at Model Town police colony, identified as a Covid-19 hotspot, on 16 April 2020 | Kamal Kishore | PTI


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New Delhi: Three days after the Centre announced the criteria for classifying districts into three zones depending on the level of outbreak in each district, several states are scrambling to understand the criteria and relax restrictions post 20 April on that basis – thereby some are coming up with their own criteria.

Officials from several states said that the Centre’s guidelines are too generic in nature, and on ground the situation, vis a vis cases reported, varies from one district to another, block to block, ward to ward within a state. Criteria to demarcate one zone as red where no exemptions may be given might not be applicable to another district in the same state.

According to the criteria laid down by the Centre, the districts which will have to be classified as red zones include the “highest case load districts contributing to more than 80 per cent of cases in India” or the “highest case load districts contributing to more than 80 per cent of cases for each state in India” or “districts with doubling rate less than 4 days (calculated every Monday for last 7 days, to be determined by the state government)”.

Any district which has not reported a new case for 28 days will be classified as “Green Zones”.

While the Centre has prepared a temporary list in which 107 districts have been classified in the ‘Red Zone’, states are supposed to update this list every week.


Also read: Why it’s still expensive for states to borrow money when Covid-19 has shrunk interest rates


‘Guidelines are not clearly-worded’

However, speaking to ThePrint, officials from at least five states gave different versions of how they will be classifying districts, and subsequently be lifting restrictions from the green ones.

“The Centre’s guidelines are not clearly-worded,” said a senior official from Punjab. “While the Centre has nowhere explicitly stated that no restrictions will be lifted across a district marked as red, that is what the impression has been, and that has caused confusion.”

“We have been told that within red zones, severe restrictions will only be imposed in clusters and breakout areas…But most district level officers are under the impression that red means no activity whatsoever.”

The Centre has divided the 170 Red Zone districts into ‘large breakouts’ and ‘clusters’. While districts with more than 15 cases constitute ‘large breakouts’, those with less than 15 are called ‘clusters’.

Moreover, the official pointed out that according to the guidelines, if any district contributes to 80 per cent of the cases in the country or state, it has to be classified as a Red Zone. This, the official said, has caused immense panic among districts. “Several DMs are asking ‘What if my district has one or two cases but falls in the 80 percent category? Will it be put in the Red zone? Will no activity be allowed there?’”

Officials said that if you arrange all districts in descending order in terms of the number of districts, and then see which districts contribute to 80 per cent of cases in India as well as the state, then you can have several districts with low number of cases be included in the Red Zone category.

While Punjab had four hotspots according to their analysis, the Centre identified eight Wednesday – leading to ‘panic’ in districts, the official added.

Several DMs have asked the state government for clarifications as they prepare for relaxation of restrictions post 20 April, the official said.


Also read: How the novel coronavirus is mutating, and if you should be concerned


‘Cannot dilute restrictions imposed’

In a letter to all chief secretaries, home secretary Ajay Bhalla said that states and UTs “cannot dilute restrictions imposed” through the guidelines but “can impose stricter restrictions” depending on local considerations.

Karnataka on the other hand says it is the COVID task force that will decide which areas need to be categorised as Red, Orange or Green.

Suresh Kumar, a minister in the Karnataka government told ThePrint that Karnataka’s COVID task force has come out with a formula where they will identify the containment zones and block them out. Red zones will be examined, and the task force will subsequently decide whether to block off the entire area and make it a containment zone, or just cordon off the block area where a Covid-19 positive patient has been found.

For example, Bengaluru has 198 BBMP wards, if any ward is seen as a Red zone, that area will be made a containment area. The whole ward need not be made a Red zone. Just the area where the positive patient is found will be contained, Kumar added. The panel will assess the spike in cases and testing before declaring an area a Red Zone.

Similarly, an official from Tamil Nadu said that restrictions will have to differentially be lifted within districts, and therefore the mapping into Red, Green, Orange of districts may not be entirely helpful.

“It seems like it is just a statistical yardstick for the central government to see which district stands where in comparison to the rest of the country, but practically speaking, that is not how it will work,” the official said.

In West Bengal, the government has refused to use the terminology coined by the Centre altogether. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has consistently denied that there are any hotspots in West Bengal, instead using the word micro-planning blocks.

In a recent press conference after the Centre came up with the guidelines, Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha told reporters that while the state is sharing data with the Centre, health is a state subject, and one should not fall for the classification into Red or Green zones. The state government will manage the crisis the way it needs to, Sinha added.

In Bihar, on the other hand, an official from Patna said that the state is going to lift restrictions only on the basis of the Centre’s list as of now, and then “figure out” going ahead. “There is still some degree of confusion. For example, what if a district contributes 80 percent of the cases in the state, but has just one case, it will be more prudent to cordon off one areas as the containment zone and resume activity in the rest of the district the same way it is being done in orange zones…All those confusions will hopefully sort themselves out gradually,” the official said.

The concern is especially true given that Bihar as a state has fewer number of cases (42) than other states.


Also read: Indian health data will miss recording many Covid and lockdown deaths


‘No scope for confusion’

Asked about these confusions, a member of the Centre’s taskforce said that there is “no scope for confusion”.

“Within Red Zones, some activity can happen depending on the states’ own analysis…If there is any confusion, it will be taken care of after the first cycle of updation.”

The taskforce member also added that the analysis of what happens within the Red Zone has to be the state prerogative. The grading in Red, Orange and Green zones is meant to give a larger national picture on the basis of which actions can be taken. It is basically a handy reference point for the whole country, which will give some degree of insight into where India stands on a weekly basis.

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Andhra doctor, suspended for alleging PPE shortage, now beaten by cops for ‘creating nuisance’

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doctor with a stethoscope
A doctor with a stethoscope (Representative image) | Pixabay


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Bengaluru: A doctor with a government hospital in Andhra Pradesh, who was suspended for questioning the shortage of PPE kits, was admitted to a mental health facility Sunday, a day after he was allegedly manhandled by the police and arrested for creating nuisance in Visakhapatnam.

Dr Sudhakar Rao, a government civil surgeon, was beaten, his hands tied behind his back and dragged by police officers Sunday. During the incident, Sudhakar allegedly verbally abused the Jagan Mohan Reddy government in an inebriated state. Videos of the incident have since been widely shared online.

“The police control room received a call about a person creating nuisance on Beach Road Hospital in Visakhapatnam. The Fourth Town police was rushed there and found that the person was the suspended doctor, Sudhakar.

“When the police tried to control him, he snatched the mobile phone of an officer and threw it away. He is suffering from mental disorder and he was drunk. He was sent for a medical examination,” Vishakapatnam Police Commissioner R.K. Meena told the media Sunday.

Sudhakar was admitted to a mental hospital Sunday after doctors at the King George Hospital in Vishakapatnam said he suffered from anxiety.

“Since the doctor is in anxiety and talking irrelevant things, I have referred him to a mental care hospital in Visakhapatnam,” said Dr Radha Rani, medical superintendent, King George Hospital.

A statement released by the hospital said: “Dr Sudhakar was brought to the KGH casualty ward at 6.30 pm. From the smell, it was found that he was in a drunk condition. Under the influence of alcohol, he did not cooperate with anybody there and kept abusing all. Still, his pulse, BP were checked. Pulse was 98, BP 140/100. Blood samples were sent to forensic lab to ascertain alcohol content in his blood.”


Also read: 6 toilets for 20 houses, inadequate testing: Why Mumbai’s Worli chawls are a Covid hotspot


‘Treatment towards Sudhakar was inhuman’

Sudhakar, who spent more than 10 years at the Narsipatnam Government Hospital in Andhra Pradesh, was suspended from his duties in March after he openly criticised the Reddy government for failing to provide PPE kits and N95 masks to doctors treating Covid-19 patients.

He had alleged that the state government was giving N95 masks and PPE kits meant for doctors to politicians and the police.

A video of Sudhakar criticising the government was also shared widely. In the clip, he can be heard saying: “We are putting our lives at risk here. We are asked to use the same mask for 15 days and a fresh mask will be provided only twice a month.”

Speaking to ThePrint, Dr P. Gangadhar Rao, member of the National COVID Committee of the Indian Medical Association, said the manner in which Sudhakar was manhandled by the police was “inhuman” and “violated” human rights.

“We strongly condemn the way he was taken into custody. He was not carrying a weapon, he was alone, the number of policemen outnumbered him. Why treat him like that? We also saw a video where a policeman beats him with a lathi,” said Dr Gangadhar.

He added that Rao was one of the most experienced anaesthetists the Andhra Pradesh government had.

“Our next step of action is to get Sudhakar to write an unconditional apology for having used filthy language, abusing the chief minister and the government. We will then take our appeal to the CM seeking that he be reinstated,” Gangadhar said.


Also read: Face shields, gowns, masks — the new attire for cabin crew post lockdown


 

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