Cracking corona in Goa


As we try to coexist with COVID-19 now, could the ‘susegad’ attitude to life, good literacy rate, eating and drinking habits, and general hygiene, among other factors, be the reason for Goans being seemingly more resilient to the virus? NT NETWORK tries to understand if there’s some basis to this theory


In early days of the virus, Goans were still getting used to the word ‘corona’. Since then, from exams being postponed, to the Janta Curfew, 21days lockdown that got extended…and further extended… corona has been ruling our lives, and has crashed the economy. But with most sectors of the state having opened up now, people are now moving freely, and inter-state travel has also resumed to an extent. However, we’ve now reached the 1000 mark with COVID positive cases in Goa.

The educated ‘Goemkar’

Even so, consultant physician, Healthway Hospitals, Chitralekha Nayak tells us that in spite of the massive rise of COVID-19 cases in metropolitan cities all over India, Goa is still seeing a small number of cases, majority of which are asymptomatic cases and that the same situation holds true for Kerala which is another tourist destination.

“Despite the tourist attraction why both these states are seeing a lesser number of cases is still a mystery and more research certainly needs to be done on the same,” she says. Possible reasons, she states could be because Goa still has a lesser number of slums, and more spaced out localities compared to other states. “The state also has a fairly good healthcare system which responded quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic. Plus, the doctor to patient ratio is much better compared to other states, so symptomatic patients would be detected early and referred at the earliest,” she says. The tertiary care centers are also easily accessible, she states, so even a patient from a remote village of Canacona can be easily admitted in Goa Medical College or a tertiary care hospital. “Early isolation of respiratory cases in the form of flu in GMC and other hospitals has helped,” she also believes.

Meanwhile, director, Xperentia Consulting Pvt Ltd, Anamika Anand who has been in Goa for a while, comparing the knowledge and awareness of people in Goa (both rural and urban) to other states, believes that education plays a critical role in containing the spread and helps in understanding the seriousness of this virus. And according to the 2011 census, Goa has a literacy rate of 87 per cent, with 90 per cent males and 84 per cent females being literate.

“Getting educated on measures to prevent this infection is a must for each one of us. Fortunately, the awareness campaigns on how to prevent the spread done by government and NGOs gave us access to this information in print, audio and video formats, making it easy to understand. A high literacy rate helps in absorbing, understanding and implementing this message,” she explains.

Nayak too believes that a good literacy rate which is common to Goa and Kerala, has led to better awareness among the public long before the lockdown. Articles, health talks, and discussions on COVID-19 by doctors in the public domain during the early months, helped in spreading awareness.

Noted author Damodar Mauzo however says that it’s a myth that the Goan community is one-up. Yet, he says that Goans have a character that gives us the distinct identity. “In these difficult days of the pandemic our morale has remained indeed high. We remained well equipped with information and knowledge about the pandemic. If we have fared well so far it is not because of the measures taken by the government, but for the reason that the people took all the due precautions seriously.”

‘Susegad’ yet cautious

Yet another factor that could be the reason for the low spread could be because many Goans have their own vehicular transport. “Limitation of good public transport, in our case acts as a blessing in disguise, given the current scenario, thereby limiting community transmission,” observes Anand.

Further, explaining how the Goan way of life has given us an edge over most other places, Mauzo says: “In villages like Majorda, we live in houses that are located away from one another. This helps us to maintain physical distance, particularly in rural areas. This is why we did not see a community spread, like in Mangor area which is a congested

The peaceful Goan way of life could also be a reason in the maintaining of good immune health. “The ‘susegad’ life and the afternoon ‘siestas’ is something that is of additional benefits,” says liquor manufacturer Adriel Sequeira. “Research has demonstrated the negative effects of stress on the immune system’s ability to fight antigens.”

Given that many Goans also like their alcohol, a retired government officer tells us that while he’s diabetic and has other health issues, brandy with hot water every night gave him the reassurance that he would wake up well the next morning.

Summer lockdown in Goa meant abundance of urrack and local feni, and for those who knew how to procure it, it was party everyday, with the health excuse. “I sell different flavours of urrack with lemongrass, ginger, garlic, masala and cumin. And this time I hiked the rates to `300 a litre for there was good demand,” says a villager in Valpoi.

Another senior citizen also laughs about how his wife had no say when he put forth his argument that liquor was good for health to keep corona away.

Ami fearless ani strong

Good hygiene, following age-old traditions and eating local are also vital. Anand says that we have few habits built in our psyche from childhood, like taking off our shoes before entering the house, washing hands before meals, greeting with a Namaskar, consuming a lots of greens and pulses in our diet, etc which are all ways of boosting the immunity.

She says: “Goans by nature and culture have been very contented and self-reliant people. Many households will have access to food basics like rice, coconut, fruits and fish within their community which prevented them from moving out a lot and thus limiting the opportunities for the virus to spread.”

And our local foods and methods of cooking could also keep coronavirus at bay states clinical nutritionist from Margao Joline Fernandes. “If you have included lime water, kokum sherbet or solkadi, and mango panna in the summers, in your diet, then you would have consumed enough phytonutrients to build a strong immune system,” she says.

Holistic lifestyle coach-integrative medicine, Luke Coutinho also agrees that just like every other state, Goa too is rich in its own wisdom and traditions. “Local and seasonal foods are the best because nature’s intelligence knows what is great for us in a particular season of the year. Nature has given us everything and it is now on us to use it for our health and well-being.”

Among the choice available to consume, Coutinho recommends that Goans embrace kokum, an inexpensive local fruit which is rich in calcium, potassium and vitamin C. “It makes the body alkaline and reduces excess body heat. It is an excellent digestive enhancer and also imparts a great flavour to any dish. Just adding a couple of dried kokum rinds pieces to a glass of water with a dash of rock salt, and soaking it for about two-four hours, results in a super cooling summer drink and can be used in several other curry and beverage (sol-kadhi) preparations,” he says.

Apart from that, Coutinho campaigns for a local green vegetable laalsaag / red spinach, a preparation made from amaranth leaves called tambadi bhaji (stir fry) which is another nutrient-dense dish. “Rich in calcium, iron, vitamin A and C, fibre, the vegetable is often cooked with coconut and garlic if needed. The preparation is very simple yet it has fantastic immunity-boosting powers and that is the power of eating local,” he

Chef Mahesh Ishwar, a strong advocate of healthy food, and known for innovation and use of methods that are good for one’s body, believes that Goa is doing it right.

 “Goans have developed a good habit over the years by following the practice of consuming food with a wide range of nutritional benefit and drinking of hot water is also one of the common practices,” he says.

Ishwar tells us that what he’s noticed is that the locals here give paramount importance to hygiene. And Ishwar too stresses on traditional foods to boost immunity. These include nachni, Goa red rice, kuleeth, alsande beans, local berries like kandam, chunam, jambul, jackfruit and mango. “This is the first line of defense in Goa when it comes to choosing a healthy lifestyle. Healthy immune system warriors need good, regular nourishment. Regular exercise is one of the pillars of healthy living. It improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight, and protects against a variety of diseases,” he says. Nayak also highlights the use of turmeric in diet as it has antioxidants, antiseptic and antiviral components which help in boosting immunity.