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Tea gardens in Assam hit hard by Covid second wave; 105 workers succumb in 3 months

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From Sandeep Sharma

GUWAHATI: As many as 105 tea workers reportedly died in Assam’s tea gardens in the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic starting from April 1 to June 28 amid an abysmally low rate of vaccination as the state government battles to contain the spread of the virus.

Of the total death cases, 81 have been reported from nine districts of upper Assam tea estates.

However, no report of Covid-19 death has so far been reported from the tea estates of Dhemaji and Majuli districts of upper Assam.

According to figures, the highest numbers of Covid-19 deaths were reported from Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts with 26 deaths each respectively.

10 death cases have been reported from Golaghat, 6 from Charaideo, 6 from Sivasagar, 6 from Jorhat and 1 death case has been reported from Lakhimpur district.

Assam has 803 registered tea gardens and out of that 555 tea gardens are working in nine districts of upper Assam.

According to figures, 77.14% deaths were reported in the upper Assam tea belt from April 1 to June 28.

“The people in tea gardens live in close proximity due to which this second wave has affected them the most. The vaccination programme is going on in the tea gardens. The garden management and district administration have been taking steps to control the Covid-19 surge,” ACMS vice president Nabin Keot told The Hills Times.

Meanwhile, the state government has started mega vaccination drives at tea gardens to contain the further spread of the virus.

Dibrugarh district surveillance officer of Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme Dr Nabajyoti Gogoi said, “In the first wave of Covid-19, the tea gardens and people from rural areas were less infected with the disease but this time most of the cases were reported from rural pockets and the tea gardens of the state. The people in tea gardens live in a very close proximity. In those areas the awareness was less compared to the other areas.”

The virus can spread just as easily in these packed housing quarters. The workers come back home to families sharing a cramped one-room accommodation, often without proper ventilation, sanitation or clean drinking water.

Several studies have noted a high rate of malnutrition, anaemia, hypertension and tuberculosis among tea workers brought in from other states in central and eastern India by the British rulers in the 19th century. These workers now comprise 17 percent of the state’s population.

To contain the spread of the virus, the government banned home isolation in tea garden areas and ordered the establishment of COVID-19 care centres with the state’s help.

“We are not allowing home quarantine for anybody who is testing positive in the tea garden areas,” said minister for welfare of tea tribes, labour and employment Sanjoy Kishan said.

Kishan said that the government has ordered the setting up of such COVID-19 care centres in all tea gardens. Symptomatic and severe cases were being referred to government health facilities and hospitals, he added.

Kishan said committees composed of district authorities, tea garden management and community organisations have been set up to educate the tea workers about the urgent need for testing and vaccination.

But a shortage of vaccines has come in the way of these efforts.

“There is a shortage of vaccines not just for the tea gardens, but for the whole community,” a health department official in Dibrugarh said on condition of anonymity.

“We are trying to arrange for the vaccines. There is a shortage in supply. But the chief minister has assured us that vaccines will be provided,” he added.

The state has reported 2,453 fresh Covid-19 positive cases on Friday, pushing the total number of positive cases to 5,13,606, an official bulletin of National Health Mission (NHM) informed here on Friday.

The death toll in the pandemic has gone up to 4,504 with the fresh death of 27 patients on Friday.

Of fresh cases, 186 cases have been reported from Kamrup Metropolitan district, the report added.

The Covid scene in Nagaon district is still grim as 114 fresh cases were detected on Friday, taking the total number of positive cases in the district to 1,776.

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