In Mizoram last week the government had to shut down the schools within a week of reopening after students reported Covid-19 positive
Nandkumar M Kamat
Goa can end the Covid-19 threat by simply adapting and adopting the New Zealand model. For all future months the open unguarded borders of Goa without any check-ups for Covid-19 at the entry points would be the greatest threat through accidental new mutant strain import. What the government does with local people would not matter much if visitors from outside the state continue to act as untraceable super-spreaders. About 20 per cent of the population would have been tested by the end of this month thus leaving 80 per cent untested people to build any model for the end of the Covid-19 threat.
As announced by the health minister if RT PCR based testing rate is increased to 2000-3000 per day then by the end of February another 22 per cent population would get covered. Then the chances of ending the threat excluding cases of reinfections would be high. Going by the business as usual scenario Covid-19 pandemic in Goa may end in March 2021. Accordingly, the planning at the government and the private sector needs to begin for the new financial and academic year 2021-22 because normalcy may be fully restored from April 2021.
Under the most optimistic scenario Covid-19 pandemic in Goa could end even by the middle of February. And under the worst-case scenario in which people participate in festivals in a big way and promote party, gambling, nightclub and picnic culture and violate SOP, the situation would not change till the onset of the monsoon next year. The closure of educational institutions since March this year has deprived the Covid-19 from finding new hosts among three lakh students. By effectively removing this 20 per cent young population from jaws of Covid-19 Goa did the right thing to deny new hosts to Covid-19.
Many countries lost the initial advantage of keeping the schools closed as the second wave caught all of them unprepared. Israel learnt a bitter lesson and the best example of getting wrong advice has been seen in Mizoram last week where the government had to shut down the schools within a week of reopening after students reported Covid-19 positive. In any calculation based on demography you need accurate
Considering that the Aadhar coverage under UID is hundred per cent in the state the correct population of Goa was 15,86,250 as per updated UID database on May 31, 2020. However, the government of Goa is allegedly using a lower population figure to inflate the Covid-19 tests per million. Here are the specific comparative figures for Covid-19 situation as on October 23 which are not revealed regularly by the state government or local media. The CFR or Case Fatality Rate of Goa was less at 1.36 as compared to 1.51 at the national level. But that was a deceptive figure because Goa had 358 deaths per million population as compared to the national mortality figure of 84 per million. In terms of confirmed Covid19 positive cases Goa with 26,360 cases per million performed very poorly as compared to national average of 5,545. This number shows the extent of widespread community transmission which began from September. But one point where the Goa government has scored very high is the recovery rate of Covid-19 positive patients. National recovery rate was 89.53 per cent on October 23 whereas Goa notched 92 per cent recovery on the same day. The demographic spread was also better because Goa had 24,221 recovered cases per million as compared to 4,924 per million at national level. As recovery rate increases the active Covid positive cases tend to fall. But here Goa has a long way to go because nationally there were 519 cases per million and Goa scored poorly with 1,780 cases per million on October 23. The aim is to have no active case. Government of Goa is not using the UID data as base to calculate the tests per million. So, the government claim on the basis of old figures was 1,97,379 tests per million on October 23 but actually using UID population data it was 181489 per million.
Covid19 like all low temperature loving infectious Coronaviruses looks for new hosts to spread and prolong the pandemic. The key to end its threat in Goa is to deny it three lakh new hosts- the students in the age group of 6-30 by not getting tempted or pressurized to open the educational institutions. One has to look at the sorry state of winter affairs in Europe and several states in the USA. It appears that the pandemic may not end anytime soon in these impatient advanced countries. And here is our government just playing with numbers to distort decision making and prematurely create a “all is well” and “feel good factor” sending wrong messages to the society to throw all cautions to the winds.
Test positivity rate or TPR is a universal yardstick to measure the severity of the community transmission. But the Goa government is not worried about a very high and sustained TPR since September 2020. If we expect the Covid-19 threat to end by March 2021 then by the end of next month as per WHO norms TPR has to fall below 5 per cent. Goa is leading the country with a TPR of 14. 4 per cent or twice the national average. For the first fortnight of October Goa TPR was 27.6 per cent and from October 16-24 it showed this trend 26, 22, 15, 21, 18, 24, 20, 19, 15 per cent, indicating a pathetically slow rate of decrease.
If Goa enters the new year with a TPR of less than 5 per cent and manages to sustain it during the winter conditions favourable to Covid-19 spread then it would be a great achievement. But the state government is focussing only on a number of new cases as a tactical decision by dismissing TPR- a mistake it would regret if the second wave hits with its brutal force in
The time series data of TPR from September 1 to October 24 shows that Goa reached the peak of the first wave by October 5. The media needs to keep on monitoring TPR for the coming months because only that metric is useful to know the demographic spread of Covid-19. People are getting misled by a falling number of active cases when RT PCR tests show the clear evidence of widespread community transmission. The virus has even reached ferociously in teaching departments of Goa University last week catching all by surprise and raising a huge question mark over strict compliance of SOPs by all stakeholders. Winter would test Goa’s readiness to end or prolong Covid-19 threat.