A total of 56 BSF jawans have tested COVID-19 positive from Ambassa unit of BSF since May 2 Credit: EastMojo image

Agartala: Soon after chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb announced Tripura as COVID-19 free, it became the top coronavirus-affected state of the entire Northeast region with the total number of confirmed cases rising to 64.

On Wednesday, 22 more people from the Border Security Force’s (BSF) 138th battalion at Dhalai district in Tripura, including 18 men, a woman and three children, tested positive for COVID-19, a day after 13 others were found to be infected with the novel coronavirus.

With this, the total number of COVID-19 cases in the state has risen to 64 so far. A total of 56 BSF jawans have tested positive in the last five days, first 12 and then 13 cases, on two consecutive days. These include BSF personnel, families and a mess worker.

Taking to Twitter, Tripura chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb confirmed the development. “Alert! 22 persons from 138th-Bn #BSF Ambassa found #COVID19 POSITIVE today including 18 Male, 1 Female, 3 Children. Total #COVID19 POSITIVE cases in Tripura stands at 64 (2 already discharged, so active cases: 62) Don’t Panic, Govt is working vigilantly. #TripuraCOVID19Count,” he tweeted.

How the state saw a spurt in numbers

On May 2, nine days after Tripura CM announced the state as corona-free on April 23, two jawans from Ambassa unit of the Border Security Force (BSF) under Dhalai district of the state were found to be COVID-19 positive.

The first two BSF jawans included a head constable who was engaged as an attendant of another constable in the Gandacherra hospital and later in Dhalai district hospital since April 25. After five days of treatment, he was transferred to Govind Ballabh Panth (GBP) hospital in Agartala.

After collection of the samples of the head constable and his attendant constable, the reports came positive, taking the total number of COVID-19 cases to four, and once again adding Tripura into the coronavirus-active states.

A total of 786 personnel are deployed at the 138/86 battalion of the BSF in Ambassa under Dhalai district of Tripura

Inquiry over the spread of coronavirus in BSF battalion

The Tripura government has asked the inspector general (IG) of Tripura Frontier to submit an inquiry report within seven days over the spread of coronavirus in the BSF battalion.

In a letter written by Tripura principal secretary BK Sahu, the state government had requested IG Solomon Minz of BSF Frontier to submit a report with information on the origin of the cases and steps taken by the security force to further prevent spread of coronavirus among the masses, etc.

The decision came after 25 BSF jawans from the same BSF unit tested positive within three days. Later in the night, 13 more, including a mess worker, were found to be infected with the coronavirus.

How Dhalai district turned from green to red zone

On May 4, a day after 14 jawans from the same border security force (BSF) unit tested positive for COVID-19, the Tripura government marked Dhalai district as a ‘red zone’.

Six out of the eight districts in Tripura were classified as green zones by the Union ministry of home affairs, while Gomati and North Tripura districts, which reported one case each, were put under orange zone.

However, Dhalai district, which was among the six green zones, was marked under orange zone after it reported two positive cases on May 2. After it reported 42 positive cases within four days, the government on Wednesday marked the district as ‘red zone’.

Dhalai district magistrate Dr Brahmneet Kaur announced that the BSF headquarters at Jawharnagar and an area of 3 km around it, Gandacherra base and Karina (BOP) as containment zones restricting the entry and exit of people from the area.

The Gandacherra market wore a deserted look on Wednesday as all shops in the containment zone remained closed 

Steps taken by BSF Frontier to avert the spread

A BSF public relations officer (PRO) said that all activities, including PT, Sainik Sammelan and group gatherings have been stopped immediately.

The entry of civilians has been stopped for the time being. No BSF jawan is allowed to interact with civilians, neither jawans staying outside nor at the headquarters with families are allowed to enter the camp, the PRO said.

When did Tripura report first COVID-19 case?

The state’s first positive case was reported on April 6 after a 45-year-old woman from Gomati district tested positive with travel history to Assam’s Guwahati.

Taking to Twitter, CM Biplab Kumar Deb announced the development at 8 pm on April 6, 2020. “Alert! First #COVID19 positive case detected at Tripura. The patient is from Udaipur. Don’t Panic, we are taking proper care of the patient. Stay Home Stay Safe. Update at: 8PM / April 6,” he tweeted.

The second case was reported on April 10, after a Tripura State Rifles (TSR) jawan tested positive for the deadly coronavirus. Both the positive patients have travel history by the same train on April 19.

The first COVID-19 positive patient was discharged on April 15, while the second patient and the then only active patient was discharged on April 25.

Did Tripura prepare for this outbreak?

Much before Tripura reported the first positive case, chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb on April 2 visited AGMC and GBP hospital to review the situation.

After reviewing the preparedness, the chief minister said, “All preparations are in place in the GBP hospital– one block having 20 seats including ICU beds has been kept closed. Besides, we are also on a move to arrange around 50 beds in IGM hospital as like as we arranged 50 beds in all districts.”

He continued, “Separate teams of doctors and other health staff have been formed. The teams will function after an interval of every seven days and they have to undergo quarantine.”

During the chief minister’s visit, the concerned health staff, including medical officers demonstrated a mock drill as to how they would provide treatment if any person is tested positive with coronavirus.

A mock drill was performed in GBP COVID-19 hospital in presence of chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb on April 2

However, additional chief secretary SK Rakesh said that in Tripura there are two COVID-19 hospitals which include GBP hospital and the other Central Medical Facility (CMF) which is located in BSF headquarters at Salbagan.

The CMF hospital is available for all paramilitary forces. The state government will supply facilities to the hospital and 35 patients can be shifted in that hospital, Rakesh said.

As per reports of the health department, Tripura has a total of 79 isolation beds and 17 ventilators across the state, while order for more 20 such beds was floated by the health department in April.

Steps taken by Tripura government in last 48 hours

Since May 5, in just 48 hours, a total of 435 tests were done of which 259 were from the ‘red zone’ in Ambassa under Dhalai district, including 51 civilians from Magzin para, which is adjacent to the BSF headquarters.

Additional chief secretary SK Rakesh said that the containment zone has been contained, intensive surveillance are going on. As of now, it indicates that the containment is within the battalion headquarter of the BSF. All positive are from the BSF battalion headquarters, there is no indication of spreading of the virus from the outside of the battalion headquarter.

“We are tracing the close contacts and testing them and a number of random testing is being conducted across the area. We are continues spraying disinfecting in the civilian area. Red zone protocol will be followed in the district and no civilian is allowed to go out without an emergency need. Only the essential services workers are allowed to step out,” Rakesh added.

The health department shifted all 40 COVID-19 positive BSF jawans and their family members to GBP hospital

Challenges in front of BSF and government

The Border Security Force (BSF) guards 856 Km-long international border in Tripura with Bangladesh and with the number of cases increasing the bordering districts, immigrants from the neighbouring country may take this as an opportunity to make entry into Tripura.

However, an adequate number of BSF jawans has been deployed across the border and in those areas having no fence, security level has been intensified to avert the chance of illegal entry.

Recently, a decision to deploy TSR as the second line of defense was also taken by the state administration to ensure zero illegal entry into the state amid the outbreak of COVID-19.

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