Need for a balance in protection of Goa’s population and business
Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has ruled out making COVID negative certificates compulsory for visitors to the state. He obviously has based his decision on the logic that he does not want to create a panic. However, COVID-19 cases are rising, and the government should have a foolproof plan to deal with the situation. Health Minister Vishwajit Rane wants the government to devise new standard operating procedures (SOPs) to deal with the situation, including testing of people at the airport. He wanted production of COVID negative certificates to be made mandatory for people coming from Karnataka, Maharashtra and Kerala, the three states which have recorded a huge increase in coronavirus positive cases. Some states have done that. Why not Goa?
Goa recorded the highest number of COVID cases in over four months on Tuesday. The state expert committee on the pandemic has recommended curbs to deal with the rising number of coronavirus positive cases. The Chief Minister has promised an increase in the number of testing. The big increase in COVID cases in various parts of the country has put the tourism industry in a panicky situation. The industry, which had suffered most during the crippling lockdown for more than six months, is again facing an uncertain future due to an increase in coronavirus positive cases in the parts of the country from where it used to draw tourists. The situation for the tourism industry appears to be similar to that which existed around this time last year when the coronavirus positive cases started shooting up in the country. The apex body of tourism stakeholders, the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) has said that due to the volatile situation caused by a sudden surge in COVID cases hotels have been flooded with bookings cancellation. TTAG president Nilesh Shah has claimed that last-minute cancellation of room bookings is going to very seriously impact the hospitality industry as the hotels have not been receiving fresh bookings for the future. The state government has to take very strict measures to allay the fears of tourists, else the tourism industry will be crippled, throwing thousands out of employment.
It is not known how many visitors have been found to be COVID positive on their arrival in Goa or have contracted the disease from local contacts. It is necessary that the state government draws up a solid strategy to contain the fresh wave of the pandemic. Goa cannot afford another crippling lockdown nor can it ignore the prevalence of COVID cases. There are many in the government who do not approve of making production of COVID negative certificates compulsory. Ports Minister Michael Lobo says the requirement could lead to 90 percent of hotels bookings being cancelled. This appears to be a catch-22 situation for the state government that has to make sure the economy does not suffer a downswing and at the same time not allow the coronavirus cases to proliferate. The government cannot afford to please everybody and has to take decisions that would be in the best interests of the state and its population.
The people and the tourism and other businesses are watching how the state government finds the ways and means to deal with the new COVID situation. The government cannot afford to ignore the safety of its people and allow the situation to slip from bad to worse, for they are the anchor of every business. Making visitors from the states seeing a huge increase in COVID cases produce a COVID negative certificate at the airport and road entry points would have served the dual purpose of not closing down business or recreational travel and not letting a fresh wave of COVID spread through the state. Though economic consideration could be overwhelming, a big surge in COVID cases could lead to the situation becoming unmanageable, which besides leading to closure of economic activities could also claim lives of the vulnerable people and any such situation has to be avoided. The government has announced vaccination for 45 plus people in April. The coverage for vaccination should be as extensive as possible in order to make the Goan population immune to COVID infection.