We have heard this saying before, that a stitch in time saves nine. Miles away in the North Eastern state of Sikkim, it is indeed a stitch in time that is saving Sikkim. While the entire world was estimating the extent of spread of the coronavirus and even before the first COVID-19 case was detected in India, the Sikkim administration started mandatory screening at all entry points since 29 January. The timely intervention and quick action saved Sikkim.
Strict screening of travellers since January and banning the entry of foreigners and residents of other states since the first week of March has helped the small Himalayan state of Sikkim to remain clear of COVID-19 till date.
Sikkim, has five borders, four with West Bengal and one with Nepal. Today, it is the only Indian state that has not reported any COVID-19 cases and that too because of early preparedness and discipline.
Following the detection of the first corona virus case in Nepal in January, on January 28thUnion health secretary Preeti Sudanch aired a video-conference meeting with chief secretaries and police chiefs of the five Indian states bordering Nepal which include Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Sikkim to review their preparedness for prevention and management.
FIVE POINTERS: HOW SIKKIM MANAGED TO STAY SAFE
- Early curbs and screening at all entry points made mandatory since 29th January 2020. People with foreign travel history were immediately put on isolation.
- On 5th March 2020, the state barred the entry of all foreign tourists. Three out of five borders were sealed.
- On 17th March 2020, entire Sikkim went into a self-quarantine mode, a week before the nationwide lockdown.
- Students and employees returning from other metropolitan cities where COVID-19 cases were detected had to home-quarantine themselves for 14 days.
- Surveillance teams assigned to every village were tracking down people who were hiding their travel history.
The Sikkim government has stopped issuing the Inner Line Permit (ILP) to all foreign nationals in view of the corona virus spread across the globe from the 5th March. Barely, 10 days later, Sikkim, prohibited the entry to domestic tourists including migrant labourers from other states. The Himalayan state sealed three out of five entry points to prevent the spread of coronavirus. These points included two that connects the state with West Bengal and the other with Nepal.
Dr Pempa T Bhutia, Secretary, Health Department talks about how Sikkim swung into action.On 28th of January, Sikkim had a meeting with the Central government on corona virus, after a case was detected in Nepal. Thus, five states bordering Nepal were called for the meeting through video conferencing with the ministry of health. “On 29th January we called for an inter-departmental meeting, where apart from Transport and tourism there were other departments also who attended the meeting. From 29th January itself we started screening at all the five borders. Later on from 5th March we cancelled all the inner line permits and we closed down three of the borders and kept open only two borders with West Bengal which had maximum traffic. From 17th March, we barred domestic tourists also.” Said Dr Pempa T Bhutia, Secretary, Health Department, Sikkim.
“As precautionary measures, from February first week we created control rooms in the health department with all facilities. A tracking team has been put in place, different committees were formed and rapid response team both at state level and district level were activated.” Added the health secretary.
ON THE MEDICAL FRONT
Even on the medical front, Sikkim has showed advance preparedness,from training doctors in early March to creating a separate flu clinic.
“On 6th March we sent 4 doctors to Delhi to get training on corona virus and two days later they came back. On 12th we had a training for rest of the doctors in the state and they later trained all the staff in the hospital. We created ICUs, quarantine and isolation wards and we dedicated a hospital floor for COVID-19 with a separate entrance and exit. We created a separate flu clinic in all the hospitals. Any persons coming with flu are checked separately and so far over 3500 people are quarantined.” Explains Dr.Bhutia.
What also helped is that Sikkimese people are not agitating by nature, hence whatever the government imposes, they agree to it. Which is why the lockdown is also quite successful.
ROLE OF POLICE
Borders are sealed as thousands of policemen have been deployed to keep vigil on hill tracks, rivulets and forest paths adjoining Darjeeling and Kalimpong hills in West Bengal that are used regularly by people. All loop roads in the hills are guarded round the clock and not a single person is being allowed to cross the border. Strict action is being taken by the Police against lock down violators as Sikkim sets an example to the rest of the Word amidst the COVID-19 scenario.
Sonam T Bhutia, IPS, DIG tells us about the role of the Police helping the health department to regulate and monitor the borders and the check posts. “We have deployed our forces at Darjeeling and Kalimpong borders so that people on either side don’t cross it. So it is totally sealed. People are at liberty to buy essential commodities by maintaining social distancing which is being monitored and enforced by the state Police. We are announcing that people should stay home and by and large our people are very disciplined and they themselves are maintaining this lockdown as they are not coming-out.”
However, there are rare cases of violations, which are manageable.“There are few people who tried to violate lockdown and we have registered one or two cases against these violators. Those spreading fake news also, we have taken action against them. We are registering cases under section 188 IPC for violating 144 CrPc which is imposed. Community policing is done here so no individual can sneak into the state by making false declarations at the border.” Adds the DIG.
Now, the state has partially lift the lockdown from April 20th onwards, Sikkim’s borders remain sealed andthe ban on inter and intra-state travel is in place till May 3rd.The Chief Secretary SC Gupta says that economic activities in the state have to be restarted in future. To mitigate the hardships posed by the COVID-19 lockdown, certain activities will be allowed from April 20th.
“We are lucky that in Sikkim, with the cooperation of everyone coronavirus has not spread, here. Public awareness level is good, people know, they understand. The government has been willing to take difficult decisions in time. The coronavirus pandemic has to be kept out of the state.” Says Suresh C. Gupta, IAS, Chief Secretary
AN IDEA ABOUT SIKKIM
Nestling in the Himalayan mountains, the state of Sikkim is characterised by mountainous terrain. Sikkim is a state of north-eastern India. Sikkim was best suited to fight the pandemic owing to its landlocked geography.It’s borders of Tibet in the north and northeast, Bhutan in the east, Nepal in the west and West Bengal in the south. Sikkim is the least populous and second smallest among the Indian states. Interestingly, the state is considered as a male state, as it is referred to as the seven sisters and one brother which is Sikkim in the northeast. This is mainly because Sikkim is geographically not a contiguous part of the peripheral northeast region. It is separated by the chicken’s neck corridor or Siliguri corridor and strategically-located on a tiny strip of land in North Bengal, that joins the North East with the rest of India.