Have to await their turn in sweltering heat
Shillong: A shortage of staff at the Covid-19 testing checkpoint at Umling, Shillong, is leading to a long wait, causing stress to returnees.
An intern at the Christian Medical College, Vellore, who did not want to be named informed The Observer: “It is quite taxing to wait for hours for a one-minute Covid test after travelling on a three-hour flight. The authority concerned needs to address the issue as there is only one person to collect samples.”
Checkpoints help in controlling the spread of the virus, the intern added, but its functioning lacks efficiency as waiting hours are long. More testing centres should be created with enough working staff. The government should exempt students from paying for their Covid test.
A majority of travellers waiting for the test are Meghalaya’s students and workers. The returnees are irritated by the long wait. They have to wait inside cars in sweltering heat until their turn comes.
The Observer saw passengers sneak past the Umling checkpoint to avoid taking the test. The movement of these individuals is not being recorded properly, posing a threat of Covid-19 spreading in the state.
As reported in The Times of India, Meghalaya deputy chief minister Prestone Tynsong inaugurated the much-awaited facilitation centre (entry-exit point) at Umling, Ri-Bhoi district, on December 21, 2020.
Tynsong said similar facilities would be developed in other parts of the state. “Similar infrastructure is coming up in the next few months at Rattacherra in Jaintia Hills and Bajengdoba in Garo Hills.” The state government would ensure that the facilitation centres follow the Meghalaya Residents Safety and Security Act, he added.
Buhari Rynjah, a tourist car driver, said: “Waiting for long hours for a Covid test is a great loss for me and other drivers as we can make only one trip a day. Before this testing centre, passengers only had to show a negative Covid report and register on the Meghalaya Covid website while entering the state. That was faster and easier.”
The Meghalaya health department has agreed to lower the prices of Covid-19 tests. RT-PCR test and Cartridge Based Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (CBNAAT), which earlier cost Rs 1,000, will now be priced at Rs 500. The Rapid Antigen Test, which previously cost Rs 500, will now cost Rs 250, reported East Mojo, a digital news platform.
Ranald Wahlang, the tourist officer at the Umling centre, said: “The main challenge we are facing now is the lack of cooperation from the public. This disrupts the workflow. Also, due to an increase in the number of citizens coming back to the state, there is a delay in the test reports. Hence, the samples collected are being sent to the Nongpoh PHC and the Pasteur Institute.”
The Umling centre tests around 600-800 returnees in a day.
UNI reported that on April 25 confusion reigned at the Umling entry point with understaffed workers working 12-hour shifts in the middle of a relentless deluge of stressed returnees waiting for registration and Covid tests.
The Umling entry point is one of Meghalaya’s busiest entry points, with just 25 workers employed round the clock. People must wait for hours before reaching their homes.
On March 22, Meghalaya health minister A.L. Hek said extra precautionary steps are being taken to combat the second surge of Covid-19. “The condition would not necessitate the use of lockdown. There has been no such judgment. Covid-19 protocols will be followed indefinitely. We keep reminding the public not to be complacent and adhere to the SOPs.”
As of April 29, Meghalaya had confirmed two deaths due to Covid-19 in the previous 24 hours, taking the total number of deaths in the state to 169. During the past 24 hours, the state registered 187 new Covid positive cases, taking the state’s total number of active cases to 1,531.