How People Are ‘Cooperating’ With COVID-19

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The present demography of the COVID-19 seropositive cases shows that the state is reaching a dangerous critical point

Nandkumar M Kamat

GOA is a few days away from possible overflowing and then predictable collapse of the public health infrastructure if people do not stop cooperating with the new coronavirus. In flattening the curve and preventing the spread of COVID-19, can Goa, a state of about two million people, succeed where New Zealand a state of five million people, has failed? Like New Zealand declared itself COVID-19 free, the government of Goa had also declared the state as ‘Green Zone’.

The euphoria in New Zealand lasted for about 105 days. The all-safe, normal mood in Goa evaporated after the Mangor Hill outbreak. The government is caught on the horns of dilemma. It cannot afford to keep the economic activity under lockdown conditions. It cannot stop the production and supply chains. It needs to run the offices and the day-to-day administration despite great risks to the staff.

The most sensible decisions so far had been to restrict public transport and keep the educational institutions closed. But the teachers and other staff have been put at great risk. The government would not tell the people the reality that there is no permanent cure from COVID-19 infection. Once one gets it, other problems surface and these last for a long time. All the claims of “cured cases” are not based on disclosure of side effects these discharged patients are facing after a few days. Slowly these would aggravate requiring their rehospitalisation. This stage was also witnessed in other countries where patients declared COVID-19 free, had to be readmitted.

From the trend that we see at present, as long as testing continues with the same frequency Goa would not be COVID-19 free till May 2021. This is under the present ‘business as usual’ scenario. Government is slowly running out of ideas to flatten the curve because it is clearly seen that people are actually cooperating more with the new coronavirus than the government machinery. From illogical opposition to establish COVID treatment centres in their backyards, denial of permission to perform final rites of those who died due to COVID-19, to the reluctance of those who got cured to donate their life-saving plasma we see that people are just not interested to join hands with the state government unlike in New Zealand where they accepted a month long stay-home order and complied with every instruction given by the popular PM and her health advisors.

The only goal of any anti-COVID-19 strategy is very simple for the people to understand. It is just to deny a new host to the virus and break the chain of transmission. But even if that is done perfectly, the border management of Goa administration is very poor. There are hundreds of routes to enter Goa from Maharashtra and Karnataka border by bypassing the check-posts. Many of these routes had been used by Goa’s freedom fighters, inter-state smugglers and bootleggers. Marine police are ineffective to prevent those who enter Goa in clandestine manner from various rivers like Terekhol, Chapora, Sal, Talpona or Galjibaga. None of these people who enter Goa by such means would subject themselves to any COVID-19 tests because the administration is focused only on notified border check-posts. Joint action by the police forces of Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka is needed to seal these routes otherwise Goa would be permanently vulnerable to COVID-19 infections spread by some of these entrants.  Unmanned railway tunnels, bridges and tracks are also being used by people to enter Goa without detection. The failure of field intelligence by local police stations in Pernem, Sattari, Sanguem and Canacona is making the state vulnerable. After three unlockdowns, the Goa police lowered their vigilance and the spikes in COVID-19 cases show that no longer the police force, already feeling the risk of exposure, is strongly motivated to apprehend and punish the violators.

The present scenario in all the rural and urban public spaces show that people have already developed some kind of mental fatigue and are willing to take some risks when they move out, travel, meet relatives and friends, visit places, do shopping, marketing, throw indoor parties, plan outdoor picnics and treks and casually dismiss the possibility of catching the infection.      

Genetically and culturally it is not in the nature of people of Goa to stay indoors, locked for a long time. By end of this month, as rainfall frequency and intensity decreases, we shall see more active movement of the people and violation of norms to wear masks and maintain minimum two metres social distancing. If people are thus willing to cooperate with the new coronavirus then in coming months, they run the risk of getting COVID-19 in every household and family. The present demography of the COVID-19 seropositive cases shows that the state is reaching a dangerous critical point which would make everyone coming out of the house immediately vulnerable to infection from this week. Even if another rigorous lockdown is imposed for two or three weeks, people, already fatigued and unhappy with controls and problems with basic supply chains, would never cooperate. With tight border sealing out of question, such lockdown may also not have the desirable effects.

New Zealand learnt its lessons bitterly with new local cases in Auckland. Goa is not New Zealand. Here slums with COVID-19 cases are rediscovered in cities like Panaji which are claiming to become smart. Connect all the small dots on COVID-19 infection map of Goa. What we see is total failure of local elected bodies and communities to discipline themselves. A day would come soon when the state government would have to invite intervention by the Army as the situation would go completely out of hand. But what even Army would do if the people are not cooperating to prevent the spread? There are misguided people, totally ignorant about viral epidemiology and immunology, forcing the government to throw the schools open next month in a “phased manner”.

The COVID-19 is just waiting for this to happen and invade the unsuspecting innocent children. And if and when the first student is reported sick with COVID-19 what the government would say? The government is still experimenting. The bored, fatigued, traumatised suffering population has already reached its ends of patience. Many civilisations in the world have ended in this manner. Let us see if story of Goa would be different. It is now in the hands of common people. They should act now before it is too late.