GRIM COVID REALITY: ARE WE SERIOUS?
Taking a cue from ongoing chaos & confusion in Afghanistan, one is reminded of quiet but tense days of strike of Corona in Wuhan, followed by 68 day Lock Down (LD) declared in India on 23 March 2020. The second L.D. of 51 to 60 days w.e.f. 4th April ’21 became necessary as situation had deteriorated alarmingly despite introduction of vaccine from first week of January.
Peak of cases was 4 Lakh14 thousand 188 on 7/5/21.
Now looking at our casual and relaxed attitude for the last few months and insistence by businessmen and old believers in social gatherings, we are knocking at the door of citadel of the imminent Third Wave.
(1) Taking further cue from battle scenario in the neighbourhood, we seem to have entered a’ cold war ‘period on Corona which was succeeded by ‘de tant’ (relaxation of strained relations). Now summer is getting over, Monsoon in Topsy Turvy format is continuing but the Superspreader in form of various festivals is round the corner. Janmastmi is going to be one day affair but may carry on for 3 days in Mathura- Vrindavan region.It will be followed by Ganesh Puja, Navratras and Dushera stretching from one day to ten days respectively. Latter will have largest congregation at this time of the year. As if this was not enough, KaliPuja, Diwali, Bhaiya Duj and Chhath Puja are certain to follow suit. We need not stretch upto X’Mas or New Year, or else our focus will go astray.
(2) Shall we remind ourselves of the standard Corona Protocol, according to which we are mandated to wash hands, wear mask properly, maintain social distancing within and outside house and take two doses of vaccine if eligible and first dose to children and left outs.
(3) To my understanding and exposure since Janata Curfew day on 22nd March, 2021, now we need to shift focus from old to children by fully protecting them with adequate relaxation and interaction opportunity, may be, during partial opening of schools.A newly trained team of earmarked health, transport and Police has to be kept ready, as present lot is working almost non-stop, since March last year.
(4) We need to be very serious about the assessment of WHO divulged a few days ago that the pandemic of India is going to get changed into an endemic soon. Various protocols, rules, regulations, manuals need not be repeated.These are supposed to be well followed ,well understood, in view of our 18 month experience.Those who pretend ignorance ,now shall have to be dealt with very firmly by ensuring action against erring Govt. servants, private sector individuals and reasonably fining offenders on road, markets, health centres and festival venues.
(5) It will be also appropriate to look at situations in one or two states from the South, and North East zones to get a comparative picture of what led to continued spike in positivity rate of 10% in 64 Districts and 5 to 10% in 25 districts of the country.The Union Home Secretary has sounded everything clearly in the meeting with the concerned states a few days ago. Further, the Health Secretary also on 26th August has made it very clear that the second wave was not yet over and that we need to be cautious, rather warn ourselves for the worsening of situation during forthcoming festivals which are supposed to be Superspeaders, as such.His message to Kerala is loud and clear.
North East Scene
(6) If one looks at Sikkim or Mizoram scenario, these were very much under control to begin with. Zero case in Sikkim as on 23 May’20 reached a high of 353 daily cases on 5th June ’21 as against merely 523 in highly populated Delhi and in Mizoram too. Similarly,Manipur and Meghalaya had to face rough weather initially but adequate control measures could be adopted subsequently.
(7) Though Sikkim had a small population to cater to and she had solid support in terms of L.D, night and day restrictions as also observance of social distancing in offices but distancing factors went haywire in respect of markets, festivals, social festivals and public rallies. A short period experiment or interface with tourists failed to make desired impact , both in terms of tariff and wages. Number of daily cases that had shot up at an average of 230 in first ten days of June 2021 and much above this figure almost throughout July began showing sliding trend only after 5th August. While in respect of Delhi, downfall began from first week of June ’21.
(8) COMING to casualties, initial CFR of Sikkim was one of the highest in the country but the slowed number now (368) can be considered rather high for a state whose estimated population is approximately 8 lakhs. The positivity rate, however, has come down from once high % of 29.4 to 12.5% on 11th August.
Renewed & dedicated campaigns, not merely routine awareness types are very much required with active support of DCs, ADMs, SDOs, BDOs, Zilla & Gram Panchayats and SHOs of area Police Stations. Usual involvement of Anganwadi Workers, ANMs and ASHAs may have to continue but with more vigour and vitality.
(9) Coming to Kerala, it made name by infamous Kerala model of ‘Flattening the curve’. Subsequent to a short time containment measures, situation began deteriorating and the state reached a peak of 43,529 daily cases with 6053 deaths on 12th May’21 that is soon after Assembly elections.
Though polling was a one day affair, yet process of damage began. Still one believes, things were not in very bad shape over here when whole of nation suffered during the unforgettable period of second wave – 4th April to 15th May.
Further setback seems to have occurred with the change of guard at the State health department when dynamic and effective woman Health Minister was replaced by an unknown MLA.Change of Union Health Minister also, later was neither desirable, nor called for.
(10) For the last five to six weeks,Kerala Covid scene has deteriorated. State accounted for 58% of total cases of the country till a week ago. Same became unfortunately 65% when its 24 hour cases exceeded the mark of 31,000 for three to four days in succession, leading to an all time high P.R.of 19.22% with 195,254 Active cases. On mortality front too, state has already lost 20,313 persons so far. These are very upsetting developments even if Bakrid and Onam, both politically motivated relaxations seem to have recently abated it.
All this is happening when whole country has improved. Kerala is generally considered a role model in literacy, awareness, overseas remittance, connectivity, vaccination rate, least wastage of vaccines etc. It’s a different issue that huge Bio medical waste in the state is a cause of concern.
(11) Therefore, following directions issued by Union Health Secretary on 27th August deserve utmost attention:
***Ramp up containment measures on priority,
***Increase number of tests considerably to check high transmission,
*** Strengthen contact tracing,
*** Home quarantine to be within accepted norms,
***Covid appropriate behaviour (CAB) to strictly enforce,
***Mass gatherings must be avoided,
*** Streamline vaccine policy & devise action plan for each district and
*** Five fold strategy of Test, Track, Treat, Vaccinate & CAB to be ensured.
(12) Announcement of night curfew by Kerala and Goa and fresh restrictions by West Bengal and J&K at this late stage may not achieve the desired results when 25% of recently installed Oxygen plants are non-functional, reports of vaccine contamination are surfacing in Brazil and Japan, country has hit the target of one crore vaccination on a single day only once and escalation in domestic violence is becoming more prominent.
(13) We should not be alive only to prevailing Covid situation in “lagging behind” 10 to 12 states but also more than adequate care, precaution and focussed attention will be necessary in other areas.
Maharastra with 58% of cases and 34% deaths on 6th April has improved gradually and as on 29th August, its 24 hours cases have come down to mere 4566. So Sikkim, Mizoram and Manipur can also improve, but Kerala situation looks rather grim at present.
(14) Heaven is not going to fall if we do not celebrate festivals or birthdays or postpone the weddings for an year or two, apart from conforming to mandated protocols even after taking two doses and be prepared to take third dose also, if need be.
(15) To wind up, to-be introduced nasal vaccine together with exclusive one for children below 12 years, may have to be popularised and facilitated by each one of us.
Child was considered father of man.
Now the same child is exposed to so many miseries on account of closure of schools, lack of peer group company coupled with absence of physical exercise.
The depressing plight of about one lakh children, who have either lost both or one of the parents (NCPCR data to S. Court) need to be adopted by welfare minded affording citizens and institutions. Further, voluntary social service of Covid patients in any form should be also started by those who have taken 2 doses of vaccine or have recovered and feeling fit, mentally as well as physically.
(The author is a retired Chief Secretary, Sikkim)