Cautious Reopening

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State should scale up its COVID testing and treatment infrastructure

THE state opened its borders on Tuesday to allow free movement of people and vehicular traffic from other states without anyone having to undergo a test for the coronavirus for the first time since the lockdown was imposed on March 25. The decision to open borders comes in accordance with the new guidelines issued by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs as part of Unlock 4 that further eases the restrictions imposed during the lockdown. The decision will help thousands of people from the neighbouring states who used to commute daily for work from their homes nearer to the state and who were stuck owing to the lockdown. The state has also allowed bars and restaurants to be opened. The government has given nod to reopening of temples, churches, mosques and other religious institutions too.

Unlock 4 is going to pose great challenges to the state government. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has urged the managements of the religious institutions, bars and restaurants to ensure that the guidelines issued by the MHA were strictly adhered to by the people. The MHA guidelines have placed a limit of 100 persons for a social or religious gathering. It remains to be seen how effectively the managements of the religious institutions and the bars and restaurants are going to make people follow the restrictions. The reopening of borders and allowing mass movement of people will give a boost to economic activities and restore employment of people from across the borders. At the same time, concerns are bound to rise that this could aggravate the pandemic situation as Goa’s both neighbours, Maharashtra and Karnataka, continue to be among the top five states with highest number of COVID-19 cases. Goa has been witnessing a sharp rise in coronavirus cases over the last two months. Though the state has announced its decision to reopen the borders, it has not come out with policies and measures that could help contain the virus. All depends on how the state authorities tackle the new complex situation. The state’s health infrastructure for COVID management is already overburdened. Any extraordinary load might become difficult for

it to bear.

Though more than five months have passed since the state began fighting the virus, it has met with partial success; there are no signs of the situation being brought under control. The measures adopted for controlling the virus have failed to yield the desired results for a number of reasons including delayed action on containment and a lack of a proper strategy for dealing with the spread of the virus in settlements of the working class which were densely populated and had poor public service infrastructure and sanitary conditions. There have been reports that only those who went to a government centre for a test and were found to be positive were taken for treatment, but the members of their families were not tested for infection. Also, the persons with mild symptoms of the virus were given the option of home quarantine, but others in their families were left unchecked. There was a possibility of the family members contracting the virus from the infected person and passing it on to others as they moved about freely. It is also doubtful whether all under home quarantine are following the norms. The state government has not released any figures of how many persons were penalised for violating the norms of home quarantine.

Now that free movement across the state borders has been allowed, Goans will need to be very cautious when moving about in public places. The state government must come out with state-specific guidelines with the broad MHA guidelines to be observed by people in the wake of the changed circumstances. People must take all measures to protect themselves and their families. The free movement across borders is bound to cause higher spikes in COVID-19 cases in the state. The state government will have to designate new hospitals and create more wards in the existing ones for treatment of COVID patients. Goa is conducting the highest per million tests in the country. It would have to scale up testing too. On the preventive side, the state government must mobilize the police and local authorities to enforce the restrictions.