In his first official press conference as the Chief Minister of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma started out by expressing his condolences at the demise of Assamese author Homen Borgohain. He announced that the road from Narangi to Chandrapur in Guwahati will be named as Homen Borgohain Path. He also assured that further steps will be taken by the state to give the deceased author due respect and recognition.
Addressing the second wave of the Coronavirus pandemic in Assam, Sarma said that while he doesn’t claim that the situation has drastically improved, but pointed out that trends for the last three days indicated some signs of improvement. He also addressed the concern regarding Black Fungus cases. In this context, he informed that Assam Health Minister Keshab Mahanta will be holding a press conference on May 21 to elaborate on the issue and added that the Black fungus disease will be declared as a part of the Covid pandemic in a government notification. The Covid positivity rate is 6.90 -6.14 percent currently, he said. He also mentioned that the state aims to conduct 1 lakh tests daily. Containment rules are also being framed with a considerate frame of mind. He assured that Cabinet Ministers are in touch with the district administration and other concerned officials. He assured that concerted attempts are also being made to ensure proper treatment at night as well.
Sarma also spoke about vaccines and addressed the national vaccine shortage. He announced that nearly 35 lakh people have been vaccinated in the state so far. He highlighted the fact that health infrastructure in the state allows 1 lakh vaccinations a day but right now due to shortage of doses, vaccinations are somewhere around 50,000. In the coming months, vaccine supply will increase, the Chief Minister assured. The centre is responsible for the vaccination of all those above 45 years of age. So, to vaccinate the people in the 18-44 age group which numbers around 1.2 crores, the state will have to spend 600-800 crores, Sarma said.
Current vaccine availability figures are at 5-7 lakhs per month for those aged 45 and above, while the figures are 5-6 lakhs for the 18-44 age group. Assam has so far vaccinated 35,88,056 individuals of whom 28,31,443 have received the first dose and 7,56,613 have received the second dose as well, Sarma said. Wastage of vaccines has also gone down from 9 percent to 6 percent, he stated.
Speaking of public donations, the Chief Minister said that the Aarogya Nidhi initiative had 116 crores which with interest amounts to 119 crores. It has been decided that all money from the Aarogya Nidhi initiative will be used to purchase vaccines. Also the Chief Minister Relief Fund will divert 50 crores via cheque to Keshab Mahanta.
The Chief Minister also listed a number of philanthropic gestures. Reliance Industries have donated 15 crores. Lower Primary School teachers will also donate a day’s salary, as announced by the Assam State Primary Teachers’ Association. Assam College Teachers’ Association will also donate a day’s salary. Apart from this, the Guwahati University donated 15 lakhs, Assam Agricultural University donated a day’s salary amounting to 50 lakh. All of these donations will be diverted to Aarogya Nidhi for purchase of vaccines, the Chief Minister announced. Further, all Reliance Petrol Pumps in the state will each provide 50 litres of free fuel everyday to vehicles involved in covid relief.
The Chief Minister further appealed to the people to donate for the vaccination drive. He stressed on public participation in this fight against Covid and said people should come forward and donate to be part of this public movement for vaccination. He said that account details for Aarogya Nidhi and the Chief Minister Relief Fund have been published in the newspapers. He also assured that the state will provide free vaccination to individuals in the 18-44 age group, irrespective of whether enough donations come in or not.
Addressing the ULFA situation and the spate of kidnappings in the state, Sarma reiterated that Ritul Saikia was safe in Myanmar in ULFA-I’s custody. He appealed to ULFA-I to release Saikia immediately on humanitarian grounds. Speaking on ULFA-I’s temporary ceasefire, Sarma said he is still waiting for further statements from Paresh Baruah to facilitate peace discussions between the Government and ULFA.
Regarding floating global tenders for vaccine purchase, Sarma said that he felt that the method was a futile exercise and he would rather place his bets on Bharat Biotech, Serum Institute of India and Zydus Cadila.
Since there is some confusion regarding the waiving of Microfinance loans, Sarma said that the quantum of waiving the loan with interest will be decided by the committee.
He also said that the Super Speciality Hospital in GMCH would be coming up in the next four months. Within November, 12-16 Cancer Hospitals will also be started all over the state. The 1000 Crore Medical College in Guwahati will soon go into construction after the court stay order is lifted.
He also mentioned that bank employees will be vaccinated as a priority. Since LPG distributors have been making demands to be vaccinated as frontline workers, he assured that the NHM would be directed to look into it.