Assam Finance and Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Saturday announced that thestate is facing financial stress due to the huge expenditurein handling the COVID-19 pandemic and will withdraw a host offreebies given to its patients. He announced the withdrawal of some of the non-chargeable services offered to COVID-19 patients like droppingthem at their homes after discharge from hospitals and leviedcharges on dedicated cabins.
If anyone wishes to get the result of RT-PCR tests ingovernment hospitals within 24 hours, then it will be chargedat Rs 2,200 at the government hospitals. Rs 6000 will have to be paid by anyone from privatehospitals needing plasma, Sarma told a press conference.
"While fighting COVID-19 pandemic in Assam, ourrevenues or resources are slowly getting stressed … If itcontinues till October-November, then it will be difficult forus," he said. To mitigate the financial crisis, the ministerannounced that from now on the paying cabins which were freefor COVID-19 patients at government hospitals, will bechargeable from now. The medicines will, however, continueto be free.
"We will also not be giving free vehicle drops to apatient after he or she is discharged. He or she has toarrange it. However, for inter-district movement of patientsafter release, we will continue to arrange their transport,"he added. Sarma also requested patients to bring their own foodwhile being admitted to government hospitals as arrangingfood for all might be difficult in coming days. But thegovernment will continue to feed the BPL or poor COVID-19patients.
"We made a calculation that till yesterday we had onelakh patients. If the patients are staying in governmenthospital for 10 days, that means it will be 10 lakh inheadcount. If we are spending Rs 500 per day, then it becomesa Rs 500 crore affair. We have done 20 lakh tests and if we have spent Rs1,000 approximately in each then it is a Rs 200 crore affair… The state government can definitely not handle such a hugeburden. So, a time may come when we will be able to lookafter only the poor patients. However, today that situationhas not come yet," Sarma said.
Assam has recorded a total of 1,01,367 coronaviruscases of which 26,646 have been reported from Guwahati cityalone. At present, 20,008 patients are still being treated. On the COVID-19 scenario in the state, Sarma said 433patients are on oxygen support while 126 are still in the ICUof different hospitals.
"One worrying thing is the rising consumption ofoxygen. In the last month the average daily consumption ofoxygen for COVID-19 patients was five metric tonnes, which hasincreased to 8.25 metric tonnes this month. If we consider thenon-COVID-19 patients, then it is 25 metric tonnes," he added. The current production capacity of oxygen cylindermanufacturers is 37.86 metric tonnes daily and it will be aproblem if more number of serious patients come in the nearfuture as the supply is getting gradually saturated, Sarmasaid.
"We have started talks with West Bengal and Bihar butbringing oxygen tankers everyday is not that easy. So thepeople have to be serious. They need to wear masks andmaintain social distancing norms, but we are seeing thatpeople are not following them," he added. Sarma said that 707 COVID-19 patients have receivedplasma therapy so far, while 1,350 have been injected withRemdesivir, a broad spectrum anti-viral medication.
Asked if the government is considering to re-imposelockdown in Assam to arrest the rising number of cases, theminister said: "We don't support lockdown as it affects thelivelihood of the people. But if oxygen supply ends andpeople do not follow the norms, then what will I do?" He said the state was able to control the COVID-19death rate at 0.24 per cent till around August 15, but itincreased thereafter and has reached to around 0.28, which isstill the lowest in the country. A total 289 COVID-19 patientshave died in Assam. The positivity rate has also increased to above sixper cent from around 4.5 per cent in this period, he added.
"We are seeing on average 2,500 cases every day. Ourdoubling rate has risen to 23 days from 15 days earlier. Wehave so far done 21,46,987 tests, which is 22,606 tests permillion. We are at the fifth position in the country," Sarmasaid. Though Assam has the capacity to test one lakh sampleseveryday, experts have suggested to do 35,000 tests, which is0.1 per cent of the total population, he added.