Holes In COVID Armour

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Goa must make COVID negative certificate compulsory for truckers

The recent spurt in coronavirus positive cases in the state, especially in the Mangor Hill area of the port town of Vasco, warrants not only a more comprehensive and secure handling of the epidemic by the state government but also by the citizens and doctors. It has come to light that one of the members of the family that has been afflicted by the highly contagious disease at Mangor Hill had symptoms for some days before he was diagnosed positive. He chose not to take the symptoms seriously. Had the person volunteered to get himself checked at a state health centre, the huge spike in COVID-19 positive cases in the state could have been avoided. It appears that the awareness created by the state health authorities about coronavirus pandemic has failed to make the citizens take precautionary measures in the absence of enforcement by the police. People continue to ignore the safety norms by not maintaining social distance and ignoring wearing mask in public places. Fines imposed on those violating the safety norms have apparently failed to serve as deterrent.

At the same time, the state government must use the provisions of the Epidemic Diseases Act and other laws to penalise the homoeopaths, vaidyas and incompetent allopathic doctors who do not advise patients to go for a COVID test even if they have symptoms like cough, fever and breathing problems. The ‘doctor’ who did not advise the virus spreader at Mangor Hill to go for a COVID test was as much at fault as the patient in delaying the detection of the infection, which meant spreading it to many people and the spike in cases. The government has not been using the laws to create an environment of deterrence against such unintended crimes. The government should not be lenient and complacent in this regard.

The state government has to act strongly with regard to truck drivers as well. It is said that the first infected person from Mangor Hill contracted the disease from a truck driver who brought fish from Andhra Pradesh. The state authorities need to be extra cautious about truck drivers who bring goods to Goa. The state needs to take up the issue with the Union Ministry of Home Affairs to change the standard operating procedure (SOP) making it mandatory for truck drivers to carry a COVID-19 negative certificate while entering the state. In Goa, as in other states, migrant workers and regular workers are getting COVID-19 negative certificates. Why cannot the state government amend the MHA SOP to make a COVID-19 negative certificate compulsory for truck drivers? The transport companies that employ the drivers should be asked to get them tested before putting them on the job. It is true that it is not practical for the state government to test truck drivers for COVID-19, for it could mean delay of 2 or 3 days and could disrupt the supply chain. However, that does not mean that the safety can be compromised for the sake of feeding the people. Of what use is being fed and supplied with essential items by truck drivers when one cannot be sure that they are also bringing the virus with them that could take one’s life away? Safety cannot be forgotten in the name of supply chain. The only way of taking care of both the safety and the supplies is to make COVID-19 negative certificate compulsory for truck drivers.   

Thus there are four holes through which the beast entered: one, the untested truck driver; two, the casual first infected person; three, the indifferent ‘local doctor’; and four, the unimaginative state government. There is a fifth hole for the beast to enter through, thanks to the law-disregarding politicians and officers. There are allegations of some people with right political connections evading screening at the border. These accusations appear to have proved true as an old lady from Calangute who arrived from Mumbai, a highly affected area, managed to avoid detection at the entry point and reached her destination. She was subsequently diagnosed coronavirus positive. Who facilitated her evasion of testing? Was this the only case or have there been many more? The government must stop allowing use of political influence for evading testing.