Uttarakhand, so far, has registered 46 COVID-19 cases (as on 23 April 2020 at 4:35 PM). Dehradun district has registered the maximum number of cases in the state (24) followed by Nainital (9) and Haridwar (7). According to the Ministry of Health, Government of India state has the third-lowest case doubling rate in the country. Out of 24 patients in Dehradun, 11 patients have completely recovered and discharged. The district is exhibiting a recovery rate close to 50%.

Amidst the outbreak, we talk to Dr. Ashish Kumar Srivastava (IAS), District Magistrate, Dehradun and try to understand the challenges, learnings and way ahead for Dehradun district in the fight against COVID-19. Dr. Srivastava also serves as Vice Chairman for Mussoorie Dehradun Development Authority (MDDA) and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Dehradun Smart City Limited (DSCL). Prior to Dehradun, he has also served in the districts of Tehri Garhwal, Udham Singh Nagar, Almora and Uttarkashi.

Below are the excerpts from the interview:

How do you describe the present COVID-19 situation in the district of Dehradun?

The Dehradun district administration is doing well in its containment of the COVID-19 pandemic within its jurisdiction. Out of a total 46 positive cases reported across the state of Uttarakhand, 24 cases are from the Dehradun district.  Of these 24 cases, 12 patients have recovered and been discharged. That is a 50% recovery rate.

Since the onset of the first positive case in Dehradun district 38 days ago on March 15, 2020; we have taken several steps to mitigate the spread of the pandemic. We have sealed and contained a total of seven localities (a forest institute, four municipal colonies and two tehsil areas). In fact, the first sealed locality, the forest institute, has been cleared by health officials and re-opened. The other localities remain sealed under detailed supervision.

We are focussed on quarantine, contact tracing and lockdown enforcement in a major way. We are availing all the technology at our disposal. Simultaneously, we have developed our infrastructure to handle a surge in COVID-19 cases, if any.

What are the main challenges for the Dehradun district administration?

Our biggest priorities are to stop the spread of the Corona virus and enforce the lockdown across the district of Dehradun. Though the number of cases have gone up, it is heartening to see the efforts of our medical professionals and front-line teams.

As soon as any cases surface, we are fully committed to containing the hotspots. The administration is ensuring the deliveries of all essential household items to the doorsteps of  residents in affected areas. I am glad to inform you that we are getting good support from the local communities that reside in the hotspot areas.

Another challenge for us is to maintain calm in the public. We are managing the situation by implementing the protocols given by the Government of India and using social messaging extensively. In the face of the imminent relaxation of the lockdown policy, we are gauging the challenges in maintaining social distancing. However, with the protocols we have in place, as well as a hard-working and team-spirit driven Dehradun district team, we shall be able to tackle the situation.

How has been the district administration’s response to COVID-19 so far?

Our district response can be summed up in five words – synchronisation, speed, surveillance, support and safety.

First of all, we have an efficient and hard working team in the Dehradun district administration. They are working in a synchronised manner. Whenever COVID-19 related issues crop up, they are making sure that they respond with force and speed. We are also always thinking of what lies ahead and are formulating our back-end preparations.

Community surveillance has been one of the highlights of our efforts in Dehradun district. Contact tracing and quarantine are being executed to the best of our ability. We have reached out to almost 4 lakh people during the past two weeks. I particularly want to applaud all our ground staff like teachers, Asha and Anganbadi workers and all others.

We are equally focussed on providing support to the needy, to the senior citizens, to the migrants and to all others who are most affected. Lastly, we want to ensure that the 18 lakh people of Dehradun district feel safe. The various efforts outlined above and the cooperation from the community are the main reasons why people have the confidence that our district will handle this in the best possible manner.

How is administration ensuring implementation of the lockdown?

We have tried to maximize the use of technology while monitoring the situation. At Dehradun Smart City Limited (DSCL), we have created an in house E-pass system in four days. Till date, it has issued 11,140 e-passes based on the guidelines of the Government of India. We are also creating a portal for the farmers of the state to sell their harvest, which will be launched next week.

The 24X7 Integrated Control and Command Centre of the Dehradun Smart City Limited has helped us a lot in monitoring the situation on the ground on a real time basis. Our CCTV cameras, equipped with artificial intelligence tools are being used for purposes like face verification. We are monitoring our isolation wards and ensuring surveillance of quarantine centres through the ICCC.

Technology is helping us track whether social distancing is being followed or not. We have observed that people’s behaviour improves automatically when they are under CCTV surveillance. We have involved civil society groups who are diligently feeding hundreds of people in the city along with the District administration. Once the basic needs of the community are met, enforcing and maintaining the lockdown will become relatively easy.

Once Covid-19 is over, what changes do you envisage in the broader realm of governance?

I have always been a staunch believer in the power of process driven, transparent technology.

One of the biggest, and to my mind very positive, changes is going to be the implementation of e-governance. Both, the government as well as the private sector, will likely invest far more resources in strengthening the e-governance infrastructure. This bodes well for a developing nation like India. It is also in sync with our increasingly digital lifestyles.

What is your message for our readers?

We all are together in the fight against COVID-19. Various sections of society have come together to help government authorities in providing relief to the marginalised sections of society. It shows that in these tough times, we are working as a team and I am really happy to witness such efforts and partnerships. I also applaud my team who are working diligently at the front-lines, day and night, with full dedication. I thank each one of them.

I feel that with everyone’s support, our fight against COVID-19 is becoming easier. We have passed the crucial first phase in a satisfactory manner. Our team is now better prepared to face future eventualities.

I not only thank your readers but also appeal to all of them to ensure that they are wearing masks when outside, practicing social distancing, washing their hands regularly and supporting the ones who are in need of help. This is not a battle which is being fought by the district administration alone; the people of Dehradun district are the real heroes and I, along with the administration, are here to support them at any given time.