Mumbai: Implementation of a five-point programme and inculcating a sense of responsibility among people was the mainstay of various measures undertaken by Ruturaj Deshmukh, the youngest sarpanch in Maharashtra, and his task force to rid their village in Solapur district of coronavirus.

Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray in his virtual address to the people on Sunday had lauded Deshmukh’s contribution and appealed to all sarpanchs in the state to draw inspiration in the battle against the pandemic while announcing “My Village Corona Free” initiative.

Ghatne village, of which Deshmukh (21) is the sarpanch, has a population of 1,500. The village had not reported any COVID-19 cases from March 2020 to April 2021.

“But in the first week of April, we had two COVID-19 cases but both the patients died. This triggered panic and many people started leaving their homes to live in their farms,” he recalled on Monday.

At this stage, Deshmukh said he decided to involve all stakeholders and create awareness about fighting coronavirus. “My mantra was to be positive in outlook with confidence that we can keep our village free of coronavirus,” Deshmukh told PTI over the phone.

Talking about the efforts, the sarpanch said he and his team framed a five-point programme involving tracing, testing, treatment, vaccination and adherence to COVID- appropriate behaviour.

“Moreover, ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers were roped in who visited every house in the village to check the blood oxygen level and body temperature of its occupants,” he said.

The villagers whose blood oxygen level is found to be below 92 are shifted to either isolation centres or to COVID Care Centres in Mohol taluka, which is 4 km away from the village, he said.

Simultaneously, “corona safety kits” comprising a face mask, hand sanitiser, disinfectant,and vitamin tablets, were supplied to the people.

A steam machine was kept at the gram panchayat office which can be used by anybody in need, he added.

Deshmukh said residents who have to travel outside the village for work are randomly tested while outsiders coming to the village are quarantined for three days and made to undergo a rapid antigen test.

To inculcate discipline in people, police personnel were deployed in the village to ensure that the pandemic norms are followed and those found without a face mask were fined.

“Since April, 15 coronavirus positive cases were detected in our village out of which two died. The village has now become coronavirus-free but the campaign continues with the help of ASHA workers,” he added.

Also read: How a Maharashtra village broke the chain of coronavirus infection

Deshmukh also underlined the challenges in the form of lack of awareness among people and general hesitancy about COVID-19 testing in rural areas. “There is no mindset for testing in villages,” he said.

He flagged the shortage of vaccines as the biggest hurdle in rural areas.

When asked about the CM praising him, Deshmukh said, “The chief minister may have mentioned me in his address but local political opposition remains. There is no difference at the political opposition at the state level or village level”.

In his view, micro-management will help eradicate coronavirus in villages.

When asked about his future course of action, Deshmukh said preparations are on to tackle the projected third wave of the pandemic.

“Ghatne gram panchayat is planning to set up a 20-bed isolation centre and a paediatrics task force with two doctors in the village. I also want to make Ghatne the first fully vaccinated village in Solapur district with the state government’s help,” he said.

Deshmukh said the proposed isolation centre will be also accessible for patients from other villages.

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