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A Compulsory Certificate

Goa must make COVID-19 negative certificate compulsory for air passengers

As the two-month-long lockdown failed to bring down the curve of the coronavirus, the central government appears to have given up to Fate, as it were, and decided to open up all modes of travel. The line of thinking in the central government seems to be that if the coronavirus is not going be restrained so quickly, why not open up the air, road and rail traffic? Even if it means a higher spike, it cannot be helped, so goes the central government’s thinking. This sense of resignation in the central government is disturbing, because whatever the Centre decides, the states have to follow. Many states such as Goa would have been more comfortable and happier if the modes of transport had not been opened up. But they can do nothing, except depending on their inadequate resources to fight a surge. Ever since train and road transport were allowed to resume, Goa has witnessed a daily rise in coronavirus cases. The domestic flights that resumed on Monday will bring in thousands. Luckily all the passengers who arrived on Monday tested negative for the virus. With the different modes of transport set to bring hundreds of passengers on daily basis, the state is in real danger of witnessing local transmission if the standard operating procedures to detect and contain infection leave holes for the virus to enter and endanger the health of Goan population.

There appears to be some confusion over dealing with violations by those directed to remain under home quarantine. While the police have warned of action under provisions of the law, health secretary Nila Mohanan says violators would not be prosecuted, but they along with their families would be placed under institutional quarantine. With the police and the health administration speaking in dissimilar terms, there is certainly a lack of clearly laid-down SOP among the health, administration and police officials on dealing with home quarantine violations. Under the Epidemic Diseases Act, persons violating the provisions of the act can be punished with six months imprisonment or Rs 1,000 as fine or both. If violators of home quarantine were not going to be penalized under the Act, it will take away the fear element and defeat the very purpose of self-isolation. The provision for punishment of putting the violator and his/her family in institutional quarantine might remain on paper, as the government does not have the infrastructure for as much institutional quarantine as can be needed.

Though the ministry of home affairs draws up SOPs, the states have the rights and powers to make their own procedures suitable to their conditions. Goa should make COVID-19 negative certificate mandatory for air passengers who arrive at Dabolim. This will eliminate the need for the state to test them or to put them under 14-day quarantine. Air passengers can be presumed to be resourceful enough to get tested twice at one of the laboratories approved by the Indian Council for Medical Research —once 48 hours before their departure, and second time 24 hours before their departure–to check if they have infection. The tests would be good for them as well: if they are found positive, they can go straight for treatment. If they are negative, they can get past the checks at the Dabolim airport by showing their certificate. If Goa makes double test for COVID-19 compulsory for passengers booked for arrival at Dabolim, it will be good for all: for the passenger, for the state government and for the people of Goa among whose concerns have been rising owing to opening up of all modes of transport.

The state government must make COVID-19 negative certificate for everyone coming by air to Goa, whether from the high-risk states/zones or low-risk states/zones. That would eliminate the need for making two types of SOPs for high-risk states/zones and low-risk states/zones. Health Minister Vishwajit Rane has warned there could be a surge in asymptomatic cases during the monsoon. The Goan people are relying on Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, Health Minister Vishwajit Rane and the officers and the doctors to prevent local transmission from taking place. They must mobilize all human and technical resources to win the war against the virus without the slightest harm to the Goan population.

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