Since March 2, when Rajasthan reported its first COVID-19 positive case, the state administration has been on its toes, ensuring the people follow the nationwide lockdown in letter and spirit. It has registered a total of 579 Corornavirus positive cases, three deaths and 60 recoveries. The state has also given the country a successful ‘Bhilwara model’.
In an interview to Outlook, Sachin Pilot, the deputy chief minister of Rajasthan, says the state government has been conscious of two very crucial aspects of the ongoing crisis: to be alert about new cases and to ensure that nobody sleeps hungry. Pilot also said that if India ever enters the community transmission stage, the country's healthcare infrastructure may not be enough to battle the deadly virus.
Here are the edited excerpts:
Rajasthan has 579 COVID-19 positive cases currently and there are other hostspots fast emerging. How do you assess the state's response to the pandemic?
It's true that the number in Rajasthan and the country is still rising, a matter of concern. But in terms of taking precautionary measures, I think we have done all that we could do to contain COVID-19. The first patient in Rajasthan was detected on March 2. And by the middle of the March, the ministry that I am running -- the Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Ministry -- has worked hard and now all of rural Rajasthan is standardised in terms of personal hygiene, hand washing, masks, etc. And now Jodhpur, Jaipur, Jhunjhunu are some districts showing an increase in the number of infected people. Since there is no vaccine, prevention and distancing are the only ways forward. We're giving it a best effort, hopefully, we'll be able to contain it.
What is the status of testing and other medical equipment in your state? Have you increased testing? Do you have enough PPE kits?
Right now, we've done enough testing. Now, we are going to start doing random testing as well. I'm also thinking of suggesting the health department to do pool testing. It is done in Germany and in some other parts where you pull in some random samples, then you do personal elimination for whoever is negative, you keep limiting them, and then it gives you a much better picture of the actual spread of the virus. We're also looking forward to importing testing kits so as to increase the number of testing in the coming week. So, masks, PPE kits and all the other equipment that are required by medical staff, we have in sufficient numbers and people are contributing too.
Do you attribute the exponentially rising graph of COVID-19 in Rajasthan to Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi?
I think the numbers are before us, but somebody or some authority must be held responsible in Delhi that allowed this gathering to take place. That is administration or the police, whoever is responsible, they must be taken to task and action taken against them. But the problem now is that people must voluntarily come out and get tested. You see problem is that there is a stigma attached to being COVID-19 positive but majority of the patients once detected are treated and are fully cured. Like in Bhilwara,, we now have zero positive cases. All those who are positive have become negative. But that Nizammudin event is very unfortunate, and I think they should be investigated and also who allowed that to happen.
So what are the biggest challenges that Rajasthan government faces in containing this pandemic?
We have enough resources as of now. But in some time, we will need rations and food grain to support those who are at the bottom of the pyramid. And as of now, nobody is going hungry in Rajasthan and everyone has been taken care of by administration and our own party workers who are fully involved in it. So, right now we are okay. But in the long run, we will need some financial assistance and I think the government of India should give state-specific financial aid, to all the states having infection, and they will actually prorate it with the number of infected people and the propensity to infect further, so that formula can be derived. And financial assistance can be given to all such states because right now, economic activities have almost come down to a standstill. So, there are no resources coming into this state.
And I also think that in Rajasthan we've managed so far with our own resources. Not just food, but even other essential commodities. But that supply chain needs to be maintained. Rajasthan is a dry and an arid state so in the summer months we'll have huge problem for water we are asking people to wash hands so additional resources for drinking water and for usage of water are also required. There are many areas in which we need the cooperation of the government of India.
Do you think Bhilwara Model is key to containing this pandemic and should be replicated across the country?
In Bhilwara, we were able to impose a super curfew and complete lockdown at any moment - regular or individual. We can do that. But it has to be done in certified places. You can't do it across all states and like Delhi and UP are doing it in some places. So, it has to be done, wherever we feel that there is a danger zone or red zone or in towns, district. Obviously, it can’t be done pan-India in one shot. If you want to have a stringent confinement of the virus, then you will have to keep people indoors. And that is the only magic formula that we have discovered so far across the world. If we ever get into the community transmission stage, India does not have the health care infrastructure to battle this. And we must not repeat the mistakes the UK or Italy committed. But generally, if we are able to contain this by keeping people indoors, by following the government, we have a good chance... and I'm quite optimistic. And this is actually a moment of reckoning for us as a human race, that we all come together and fight as one nation.