Arvind Kumar Verma had started reading the World Health Organization’s operating procedures apart from guidelines from state headquarters even before the first COVID-19 case surfaced in Bihar. This helped him chart out effective containment and buffer zones when Begusarai reported its first case on March 31. “We did contact-tracing and quarantined 20-odd people,” he says.
The district administration also built active surveillance teams to monitor people in the containment zone. “There were 5,000 houses in the containment zone. Initially, the people wouldn’t respond at all,” he says. So, Verma accompanied the team himself and also deputed senior doctors. As a result, people started reporting suspected cases on their own. For instance, the district administration received calls from Bachwara village about a group of 10 people with a travel history living in an abandoned house. Since some of them were influential people, they had asked the villagers not to divulge the information. Two of them tested positive. “With contact-tracing, we zeroed in on the infection source. It emerged that the two people contracted it from a Tablighi Jamaat member in a neighbouring district,” says Verma.
To improve health infrastructure, Verma requisitioned nine hotels, though just three are being used currently for the 46 quarantined people. His next challenge is to prevent the spread of infection. “When we started surveying the hotspots, I decided to get all aged people tested as they are vulnerable. We got as many as 747 kits for this purpose,” he says.
Beyond healthcare, seven dedicated cells have been set up in his office to tackle issues related to any humanitarian crisis; Verma meets their in-charges daily to map strategies. The administration has also launched an awareness campaign in all 229 panchayats. “The DM is a real solution provider,” says Begusarai resident Krishna Kumar. “He visits every lane himself to see if social distancing is being observed. Recently, when he found social distancing difficult at a vegetable market, he got it shifted to a big field in a few hours.”