Shimla, April 22 (IANS) Persistent snow in hundreds of hamlets spread over the Himalayan peaks of Himachal Pradesh is posing a major challenge for authorities to sensitize the locals, mainly tribals, on the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Officials say these villages are located across Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti districts and interiors of Chamba, Kullu, Sirmaur and Shimla districts.
Sometimes the frontline Covid-19 ‘warriors’ have to traverse on horseback to reach remote habitations.
Authorities suspect these villages largely remain out of bound every winter owing to the snow snapping major road links but the arrival of migratory labourers involved in construction of road and hydropower projects with the reopening of road networks in early March could pose a threat to the native people, largely the Buddhist.
The awareness drives in most parts of the picturesque Spiti Valley has picked up pace these days, an official told IANS over phone from Kaza.
He said teams of the Information and Public Relations Department, the health and the police have been visiting each village to educate the locals about how to contain the virus.
“Most of the people are aware about the disease despite no internet connectivity in larger areas. They are taking precautions on maintaining social distance while working in the fields too,” Assistant Public Relations Officer Ajay Banyal told IANS.
“Since local womenfolk are in the habit of donning headscarf by covering the face to avoid sunburn, they automatically help the disease spread,” he said.
The freezing temperatures and continuous snowfall have been forcing the locals to stay indoors most of the time.
Kaza, the headquarters of Spiti and some 320 km from the state capital Shimla, is the first in the state to sanitise the entire block.
A government team on Tuesday visited Hikkam, world’s highest post office in Spiti at an elevation of over 15,000 feet, to educate the people on hand sanitization and stay at home.
Hikkam and its nearby Komik and Langche villages where the night temperature still hovers 10 to 15 degrees Celsius below freezing.
Officials said no case of coronavirus has been reported in the entire Lahaul-Spiti and Kinnaur districts.
But they are extra cautious as they share a porous border with China and smuggling of rare species of fauna and Chinese goods like blankets and thermos flasks across the border is quite frequent.
As a precaution, the government has set up a medical camp at Sumdoh, the entry point for Spiti, to examine people and sanitize their vehicle to prevent the virus spread, said Additional District Magistrate of Kaza, Gyan Sagar Negi.
A mandatory 14-day home quarantine in the Spiti Valley is a must for every state outsider.
Health Officials say at least 30 villages in Lahaul and Spiti and equal number in Kinnaur are located at an altitude of 9,000 feet to 15,000 feet above sea level. The Pangi segment in Chamba district has over a dozen such villages.
In these areas the frontline healthcare workers, comprising Asha or Accredited Social Health Activist, have to traverse distances ranging from 10 to 25 km on foot, or sometimes on horseback, from the road-head for reaching the rugged and inhospitable villages.
The landlocked Lahaul Valley, comprising over three dozen small and scattered villages some 350 km from state capital Shimla, is still cut off owing to heavy snow accumulation in the Rohtang Pass (13,050 feet) — the only connection with Manali in Kullu district.
A majority of villages in Lahaul are still marooned in thick snow cover and cut off from the district headquarters.
The Border Roads Organisation (BRO), a government agency that maintains strategically important highways that pass through rugged Himalayan ranges, has been on the job to clear snow and set an April-end deadline to connect Keylong with Manali.
Likewise, snow-clearing work is on to connect the Spiti with the Lahaul and Pangi with its headquarters Chamba.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])