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Celebrate with caution

Declining positive cases has prompted the Assam government to explore lifting all COVID-19 restrictions from most places from October.

Celebrate with caution

Sentinel Digital Desk

Declining positive cases has prompted the Assam government to explore lifting all COVID-19 restrictions from most places from October. A new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) issued by the Central government for states and union territories for the upcoming festive season is a timely caution against any complacency over flattening pandemic curve. The overall daily positivity rate in the state is steady at less than one per cent but reporting of over 1,000 positive cases in Kamrup (Metropolitan) district over ten days from September 14 till 23 calls for taking the Central government's SOP seriously. The Central government has asked the states to ensure that mass gatherings are avoided in areas identified as containment zones and in districts reporting more than 5% case positivity. The SOP states that relaxations and restrictions are to be imposed based on the weekly case positivity rate. High reporting of new cases in Guwahati and other parts of the district is indicative of migrations of infection to the capital city after restrictions were eased in the state. Guwahati will be the prime destination for all during the upcoming Durga Puja and other festivals like Diwali. The State government has issued a detailed SOP for the Durga Puja and other festivals and sticking to restrictions will be a wise thing to prevent a spike. The state vaccinating 1.79 crore with at least a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine is a commendable achievement but the fact that the number of people who have received both the shots is still 50.31 lakh, the immunity of the vast majority of the people cannot be expected to be strong enough to resist infection if the virus spreads due to complacency. Ramping testing before festive seasons will help detection of infections and isolation. If the infection remains undetected, the possibility of circulation of infected people at festival venues remains high. Easing the restriction has brought back fresh rhythms of economic activities in the state and it is not desirable that a spike in cases pushed the state back to days of restrictions. The State government is planning to open all tourism destinations from October 1. Tourism generates income avenues for multiple stakeholders from tour and travel operators, hotels, tourist lodges, food suppliers, roadside eateries all of which came to a grinding halt due to COVID restrictions. Those running homestays for tourists and backpackers need to be extra cautious and the SOP to be issued for reopening of tourism in the state need to emphasise the vaccination status of tourists. Such a measure will ensure that family members of homestay facilities on the same premises remain protected from any infection from tourists. Apart from the festival activities, the rise in activities of political parties over the upcoming bye-lections to six Assembly constituencies in the state has also led to mass gatherings in public places. The Central government has cautioned the states that the second wave of COVID-19 has not ended in India yet. An active caseload of over 3,000 cases and death toll due to COVID-19 rising to 5,827 also confirm that the second wave is far from over in the state. The improved situation has allowed the Education Department to gradually resume more classes at college and university levels. Sustaining the prevailing low-infection situation through the festive season is critical to reopening physical classes from primary level to class VIII from November as planned by the State government. Early reopening of schools has become a necessity to make up for the huge learning loss of students due to the suspension of offline classes, but it will depend on the elders strictly adhering to COVID-19 appropriate behaviour in public places. It is a matter of grave concern that many people have dropped their facemasks perhaps due to complacency that they have already received vaccines and have become immune to COVID-19 infections. Reporting of breakthrough infections in many individuals who had already received both the doses of vaccines and some of them with comorbidity succumbing should open our eyes and listen to health experts why it is dangerous to drop the facemask even after being fully vaccinated. The State government intensifying the campaign for vaccination against COVID-19 is important to building pandemic resistance among the population. Educational institutions, festival committees running campaign drives on handwashing, hand sanitising and face mask-wearing will go a long way in building awareness against complacency over the decline in infections. Puja and other festival committees providing handwashing facilities and distributing facemask for the general public at the festival venue from the first week of October can be an action-driven awareness drive. The local administration impressing upon the festival committees to undertake such an awareness drive will go a long way in ensuring that celebrations are not overshadowed by the fresh rise of the pandemic curve. The panic button need not be pressed but complacency over the decline in positive cases will leave room for the fresh spike.

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