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COVID-19 Third Wave: How Prepared and Equipped is Sikkim?

With the fear of the third wave of the COVID-19 outbreak gripping many parts of India, Sikkim is preparing itself to face the global pandemic and to keep its citizens safe and healthy. The state of Sikkim has so far reported 26, 548 conformed positive cases, of which 22, 535 have recovered. As of July 31, 2021, the State reported 3400 active cases.

Sikkim was one of the few states to have controlled the spread of the pandemic during the first wave that began in March 2020. The State had taken multiple measures to contain the spreading of the virus. But Sikkim too joined the rest of the States on May 23, 2020 as the first case of COVID-19 was reported. The first sample was sent to North Bengal Medical College and Hospital, Siliguri. Since then, the State authorities and Health department has been actively working in the building of medical infrastructure and preparing itself to face the pandemic.

The State was handling the pandemic well until the second wave hit its population. In a report published by NDTV on July 17, 2021, Sikkim recorded 155% of new cases in the second wave compared to the first wave. According to the report, “The second wave was recorded in the frontier state of Northeast India from April this year, and the 136 deaths were recorded in just a little over two months when the country showed an average of over 18.37 per cent positivity rate. It was 7.4 per cent in the first wave that was chronicled between March last year to April this year — 13 months.” The State also recorded high positivity rates that soared up to 20.7% in July 2021.

On July 23, 2021, more concerning matters affected the State as 97 samples tested positive for the Delta variant of coronavirus. The variant is a mutated variant of the virus that had higher rate of transmission and infection. This, in turn, has also become a major concern as of the 97 positive cases, the youngest is an 11-year-old boy.

According to the data available from the Union Health Ministry, Sikkim has so far administered over 4.65 lakhs of first dose of vaccination and 1.36 lakhs of second dose vaccination. This constitutes to less than 20 per cent of the State’s population that has been fully vaccinated. The State still continues its vaccination drive and is encouraging its people to come forward and get vaccinated. 

Speaking to local media, the Health Minister of Sikkim Dr. M K Sharma said, “In the initial days, the cases were few and people also followed the guidelines very strictly and first wave concluded without much damage to the society. During the second wave, multi-various factors came into being which took a toll on the population of the State. For instance, the delta variant, which is a very hostile agent, has entered Sikkim.”

According to the data provided by the health minister, 11,754 health care workers have received the first dose of vaccination and 10, 084 of them have completed their second dose of vaccination. 17,496 frontline workers have received the first dose of vaccination. And in the age category of 45 years and above, over 2,80,000 people have received their first dose of vaccination. In the age group of 18-44, 2,91,824 people have received their first dose of vaccination as of today.

“The best way to handle this pandemic is by achieving 100% vaccination and strict following of COVID-19 guidelines. As a host, we must prepare ourselves by getting vaccinated and testing when the need arises. There are three main factors that are important in the understanding of this pandemic outbreak: the agent, the host and the environment. It has been evident from the past that the agent has been undergoing multiple mutation process with time. Hence, it is important for the host to be prepared in order to tackle the situation.” He added.

Dr. Pempa. T Bhutia, Director General cum Secretary, Health Department, Government of Sikkim said, “If we are very careful, and we follow COVID-19 guidelines and everyone comes forward for vaccination before the third wave, we might even be able to avoid this third wave.”

“The third wave is believed to affect more people who are below 18 years of age. One reason for this could be the fact that lesser people in this age category have been vaccinated yet. Meanwhile, we are revamping the paediatric wards and Intensive care Units (ICU) at Sir Thutob Namgyal Memorial (STNM) hospital to be prepared for the third wave. We are also working on arrangements for the wards of children affected to stay within the hospital premises.” He added.

The Health Minister Dr. M K Sharma also said, “The government is for the people and is always concerned about the welfare of the people of the State. It is necessary for everyone to follow COVID appropriate behaviour even within households, as we do it outside the home.” The minister also stressed on the importance of usage of media and social media especially, only to share information and facts.

Meanwhile, Sikkim Manipal hospital at Gangtok, East Sikkim, has also been preparing to equip itself for COVID-19 treatment. In April 2021, the East District administration notified that the Central Referral Hospital will have a 100-bedded ward devoted for COVID-19 treatment. Since then, the hospital management has been working towards providing facilities to tackle the increasing number of cases in the State.

The Medical Superintendent of Sikkim Manipal Hospital, Dr. Yogesh Verma said, “The Central Referral Hospital is a multi-speciality and on the instruction of the Government of Sikkim on April 26, 2021, the CRH immediately allocated 103 beds for COVID-19 treatment. Since then, we have treated about 600 patients who were affected by COVID-19. In the month of May, during the peak of the second wave, we recorded the highest number of patients on a single day at 75 positive patients.”

“As far as the facilities are concerned, Sikkim Manipal Hospital is well-prepared for the third wave. Since it is presumed that the third wave would affect the paediatric and adolescent age group, we have developed a SoPs, which was prepared by the paediatric department to handle the situation. And since we are a teaching hospital, we have enough manpower to meet the demands of the third wave. And in terms of infrastructure, apart from the 15 ICU beds (with ventilator) that are already allocated to the COVID ward, we can make arrangements for 45 more ventilators at any given moment if the need arises. And of the 103 beds allocated in the ward, 95 beds are supported by piped oxygen which is directly connected to the oxygen plant. And for emergency purpose, we also have back-up oxygen cylinders.” He added.

With the third wave having begun in many states, Sikkim is preparing itself to control the further spread of coronavirus. With the State government taking necessary measures, it is equally important for the people to follow the appropriate guidelines and keep themselves safe. The three basic guidelines of social distancing, wearing masks and regular sanitization must strictly continue. And alongside, it is also important to come forward and get the vaccination done. With good governance and responsible behaviour, the third wave can be tackled with minimum damage to the health and economy of the State.

By Vaidyanath Nishant. The author is a freelance writer. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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