Health ministry points to Covid norms violations during Bihar poll campaign

The Union health ministry on Tuesday said a central government team found “less than satisfactory” adherence to Covid-19 norms like mask-wearing and hand hygiene outside urban centres during campaigning for the Bihar elections.

Responding to a question at a press briefing, Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan said the team’s findings were shared with the state and Bihar took the requisite corrective action.

“During the election campaigning period, we had deputed a central team to Bihar, which found certain good practices and certain areas of concern. Particularly, the team found that outside the urban centres, the wearing of masks, maintenance of physical distance and hand hygiene were less than satisfactory.

“We have shared the findings with the state government as we do with respect to other states, and are happy to report that once we submitted the findings…the requisite corrective action was initiated by Bihar,” he said.

Polling for the Bihar election was held in three phases for 243 seats — the first phase for 71 seats on October 28, the second for 94 seats on November 3 and the third for the remaining 78 on November 7.

Bhushan said central teams were sent not only to Bihar but also to other states where bypolls were being conducted.

“We had sent a central team because we were concerned that not only in Bihar, but also other states where bypolls were being conducted, that there were reports of social distancing not being followed, masks not being worn. The reports were shared with the states and where time-bound follow-up action was required. The cause of satisfaction is that when we drew their attention, the states took steps to rectify it,” he said.

Responding to a query on whether the violation of the Covid-19 norms would lead to a spurt in cases, the Union health ministry official said, “These things are long term, so what has happened in Bihar last week or 10 days ago will take time to manifest, whether in terms of new numbers or any other development, so this is something that requires a close watch. Within the ministry, we do keep a close watch on a 24-hour basis.”

He said 11,521,841 Covid-19 tests have so far been conducted in Bihar, of which 1,293,900 or roughly 12% were the more accurate reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests, and the remaining the faster, but less accurate rapid antigen tests.

“You can always argue that a large number of tests are RAT, but Bihar has also been advised by us that whenever they conduct RAT, that those who are symptomatic negatives must mandatorily be subjected to RT-PCR tests. This is the advice we give to all states and Union territories, because we do not want any undetected person to move around and spread the infection,” Bhushan said.

On November 9, Bihar added 798 new cases of the viral infection, which took the total number of active Covid-19 cases in the state to 7,536, as per an update from the health department.

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