Northeast India Fears Virus 05/10 06:48
With experts saying the coronavirus is likely spreading in India's
northeastern state of Assam faster than anywhere else in the country,
authorities were preparing Monday for a surge in infections by converting a
massive stadium and a university into hospitals.
GAUHATI, India (AP) -- With experts saying the coronavirus is likely
spreading in India's northeastern state of Assam faster than anywhere else in
the country, authorities were preparing Monday for a surge in infections by
converting a massive stadium and a university into hospitals.
Cases in Assam started ticking upward a month ago and the official seven-day
weekly average in the state on May 9 stood at more than 4,700 cases. But a
model run by the University of Michigan -- which predicts the current spread of
cases before they are actually detected -- says infections in Assam are likely
occurring as fast as any other place in the country.
Add to that recent elections in the state -- and the huge political rallies
that accompanied them -- and experts fear a uncontrolled surge is on the
Worryingly, along with cities in India's northeastern frontier -- which is
closer to Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan than it is New Delhi -- cases have
also started to spike in some remote Himalayan villages in the region.
Nationwide, India's Health Ministry reported 360,000 new cases in the past
24 hours Monday, with more than 3,700 deaths. Since the pandemic began, India
has seen more than 22.6 million infections and more than 246,000 deaths ---
both, experts say, almost certainly undercounts.
Officials in Assam were racing to prepare for a virus surge because similar
onslaughts in infections have overwhelmed hospitals in much richer Indian
"We are adding 1,000 beds a week to prepare ourselves in the event of cases
spiraling," said Dr Lakshmanan S, the director of the National Health Mission
The state's largest government-run hospital, the Guwahati Medical College
Hospital has more than doubled its number of intensive care beds to 220 and
health officials are building another 200 in the hospital's parking lot.
A football and cricket stadium is being converted into a hospital for
COVID-19 patients with 430 beds. The private Royal Global University in the
state capital, Gauhati, has been converted into a hospital with 1,000 beds.
The state is sending doctors, paramedics and medicine to these facilities
and the university said it would provide books and newspapers for patients to
"This is the least we thought we could do in this time of huge crisis for
our country," said Dr AK Pansari, the university chairman.
There are 2,100 beds reserved in government centers for COVID-19 patients in
Gauhati, with hundreds more planned. That's in addition to the existing 750
beds for patients at private hospitals in the state.
Even as infections have increased, the rates of vaccination have fallen in
Assam and the other states in the region since India expanded its coverage to
include all adults on May 1.
Adding to concerns is confirmation the virus has started spreading into more
remote Himalayan villages with poor health infrastructure. These areas are home
to indigenous tribes, whose are already face some of the lowest access to
health care in the nation.
The region had largely been untouched by the virus earlier and many people
behaved like COVID-19 didn't exist. But it now appears the virus was spreading
in even remote villages without people knowing until it was too late.
The lack of awareness about the virus, lack or resources and the remoteness
is complicating contact tracing in such areas, said Dr. Mite Linggi, the
medical superintendent at the district hospital at Roing in Arunachal Pradesh
Despite the limited medical infrastructure and even more limited medical
supplies, Linggi said what they really feared were power cuts.
"Power is crucial for running oxygen supply. We have patients gasping for
air when the power comes and goes out," he said.