350 tea estates in Assam hit by COVID-19

Government decides to facilitate offline vaccination as many plantation workers don’t have mobile phones

COVID-19 infections have spread fast across the tea belt in eastern Assam, affecting almost half of the State’s 803 major tea estates.

Assam’s Health and Family Welfare Department could not provide data specific to the tea estates. But associations of tea workers said about 350 estates have been affected, leaving more than 20 workers dead.

“It is difficult to give the exact figures, but almost all gardens are affected. But a majority of some 6,200 workers who tested positive are from the gardens in five-six districts,” Congress-affiliated Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha leader Lakheswar Tanti said.

The districts most affected are Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Biswanath, Golaghat and Jorhat. “The spread is worrisome in the tea gardens. One can get an idea from a total of 1,325 people who tested positive in these five districts on May 28,” a Health Department official said.

Dhiraj Goala, the president of All Assam Tea Tribes Students’ Association, attributed the spread to the reluctance of tea workers in getting tested.

“There are 25 lakh people across the tea belt and 10 lakh or them are workers in the large and small tea gardens. Our members have been visiting the gardens, motivating them to get tested as well as vaccinated,” he told The Hindu.

“According to government records, 27,000 tea garden workers have been given the first dose of vaccination and 2,400 the second dose. We have asked the government to speed up the process with offline, on-the-spot registration facility,” Mr. Goala said.

The State government has decided to facilitate offline registration for the vaccination drive. Sooner the better, tea organisations have said.

Assam’s Labour and Tea Tribes Welfare Minister Sanjay Kishan, who has been monitoring the pandemic status in the tea belt, said COVID Care Centres have been set in in more than 270 tea gardens and more are in the process of being set up.

“We have formed a COVID management committee in every tea garden, which update us on the prevailing situation and advise testing and vaccination. We are also providing ₹2,000 for rations to each family affected by the novel coronavirus,” he said.

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