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Learn lessons from Kerala how they dealt with covid crisis: Himachal civil society

By Our Representative 
As the country enter the phase two of the lockdown imposed as a move to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of close to 50 civil society groups, community organisations, activists and concerned citizens of Himachal Pradesh have issued a public appeal in order to address the steps that need to be taken, so that the state is able to respond to this public health crisis and the impacts of the lockdown in a just and effective manner. 
The signatories from various parts of the state said in the statement, "We express our gratitude towards those who have worked day in and day out in the last three weeks to ensure the safety and health of the citizens and we understand the seriousness of this crisis".
The statement says that while the population of Himachal Pradesh is quite low, just about 68.6 lakh, the state faces a major problem: Several lakh migrant workers work here in industrial units and orchards. At the same time, around one crore people come to the state as tourists every year to visit Manali, Shimla, Dharmashala and other places.
The state’s public health network is incapable handling such a huge inflow, it says. Several of the state’s regions, such as Kangra, Una, Sirmaur, Chamba and Solan, do not have good health facilities, while people of remote areas like Saraj, Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti have a major problem in getting any medical aid during winter.
The statement highlights concerns that have arisen in the aftermath of the curfew and lock-down in Himachal Pradesh. Some of the important issues raised and suggested steps/measures to be taken include:
  • There is a need to increase the frequency of tests because the test rate in Himachal Pradesh is currently lower than our two neighbouring states, Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and Uttarakhand.
  • There is a need to end myths, social stigma, hate and fear-mongering around the disease, especially against vulnerable communities. 
  • Strict and immediate legal action should be taken in cases of violence against migrant labourers, health workers and members of minorities. 
  • There is a need to adhere to guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Indian Concul of Medical Research (ICMR), which have advised against communal profiling while reporting about the disease. 
  • There is a need to strengthen the public health system and emergency response mechanism (safety plus testing kits/beds/personnel/ventilators etc.) and report the status of the same in media briefs on a daily basis. 
  • The government should provide information in public domain on status of the relief work and facilities extended to lower income group families, migrant and daily-wage labourers and other vulnerable communities. 
  • There is a need to fulfill fodder, seeds and other needs of farmers/ livestock-rearers, as suggested by farmer organisations. At the same time, the government must ensure that movement of pastoral communities continues unhindered and they do not face hurdles locally, even as they continue practicing physical distancing. 
  • The government must ensure access of all Central and state government relief schemes and release daily bulletins on the same. 
  • The state must involve non-governmental organisations and activists in a co-ordination, planning and lockdown exit plan at the district level. 
  • The state ensure the safety of health workers and frontline health personnel, even as ensuring availability of other health services to patients who may be in dire need of medical help. 
  • There should be a 24 hour helplines for women who may be in distress due to domestic violence and abuse or other types of harassment. 
  • The state should take steps to address the problem of those who may be stuck outside the state – allowing their return into the state after adequate testing and quarantine measures. 
  • Special measures should to be taken keeping in mind the non-accessibility of remote and inaccessible regions like Lahaul Spiti and Kinnaur, where the disease may spread during winter. 
The lock-down exit strategy task force should chart out a long-term plan to put in place a robust bottom up institutional mechanism at the district, block, panchayat and ward levels, the statement says.
It adds, through these channels, quarantine and public health facilities, status of essential commodities and services, handling of coronavirus testing, condition of migrant workers, status of daily wage labourers and other vulnerable section, should be monitored during lock-down extension period. The police and vigilance departments may work in close co-ordination with these channels.
According to the statement, “This is the time when mountain communities, mostly residing in rural, remote, difficult and far-flung areas, need each other’s solidarity and support to survive the lockdown period and to deal with the disease together. Maintaining peace and harmony must be the priority and responsibility of each and every citizen of the state, especially the media and the state apparatus.”
The statement asserts, “Himachal Pradesh is a state that was until a few years ago neck to neck with Kerala in some of the social development indicators like health, education and basic infrastructure. We need to learn our lessons from the example of Kerala and how they have dealt with the COVID-19 crisis. As a small state with a low density of population and a resilient community we have many advantages that we must use at this moment.”
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Click HERE to read full statement in Hindi and signatories

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