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Only if you have a valid COVID negative certificate

There should be only one basis for anyone to enter Goa by air, road or rail: a COVID-19 negative certificate. There should be no other basis. The state government’s new standard operating procedure gives either/or option: the person may carry a COVID-19 negative certificate or get themselves tested on arrival. The government must remove the test option.

There would be many advantages from this. First, the compulsory requirement of a COVID-19 negative certificate would reduce the number of people wanting to come to Goa. Second, it will not burden the state health infrastructure, as there would be no need of testing many passengers. Goa has a very small testing capacity. It just cannot get the results of more than a thousand visitors within two hours, should more than a thousand visitors need to be tested. Many samples would have to be sent to Mumbai, from where the results would come in two days. Third, if that happens, the danger of the visitors, whose test results are awaited from Mumbai, would move around in Goa and meet Goans in various offices and at various stations without anyone, not even the person, knowing if he or she is infected. That would certainly be a recipe for local transmission.

Fourth, if Goa insists on a COVID-19 negative certificate and nothing else, that would provide some reprieve and time for breathing to our dedicated doctors and nurses and technicians and other staff who have been working without rest and peace for the past two months. When Goa got into the green zone, they thought there would be some relief. But the central government announced relaxations, which brought COVID-19 cases from other states, largely from Maharashtra. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant should have resisted the relaxations and not allowed relaxations in air, road and train travel. The state had fought hard to get into the green zone. The Chief Minister should not have allowed anything that would take Goa out of it. But we surrendered to the dictates of the central government, staggered and diluted our SOPs. It does not fool anyone to call a vacillating SOP as a dynamic SOP.

The home quarantine option as the third option for someone coming to Goa by air, road or rail in the earlier SOP looked like the state government had reconciled to the fate of dealing with local transmission. Home quarantine is something the government has left entirely to the “social conscience” of the quarantined person. If the person is moving about freely, no policeman or paramedic is watching them. The only contact of the doctor or paramedic with the person is on phone when he or she is asked if they have any symptom such as cough or fever or breathing problem. Other than the “social conscience” of the quarantined person, the state government depends on the neighbours and other people who know the person to report to the police or medical surveillance authorities any movements of the quarantined person. But this presumption may go wrong because the neighbours and acquaintances of the person might also not like to report his or her violation to the authorities for the sake of their old and long-term relationship with them. Then there was no deterrence from the state government. Although the Epidemic Diseases Act provided for six months imprisonment or Rs 1,000 fine or both for violations of the protocol, the state government decided to place the quarantined person and his/her family under institutional quarantine if the person violated the protocol. The punishment sounded hollow as no one had been punished in Goa for violating the quarantine. And even if they were, the state government would find it difficult to accommodate them as the capacity for institutional quarantine was limited. So, when the state government eliminated the home quarantine option, it did a very correct thing.

The only way Goa can prevent local transmission is by also eliminating the second option of the infection test on arrival and keeping COVID-19 negative certificate as the only option. Because if we keep the test option and the numbers are large, results will take two days to come, and by that time a visitor would have passed on the infection to locals if he or she were found positive.