Millennium Post

Pressing priority

Politicising the Coronavirus pendemic is a waste of national potential that can be used instead to tackle the crisis at hand and revive the economy in the aftermath

With six deaths from Telangana related to the Nizamuddin congregation in Delhi, all the euphoric anticipation of freeing the state from COVID-19 by April 7 evaporated. In China, after they closed down the last of their Coronavirus hospitals, they found recurrence in some cured patients.

Although we are better off by many times as compared those days a century ago when Spanish Flu had killed 20 million people, our healthcare infrastructure is still a mismatch to the might of the new virus; that too when there is no specific medicine or vaccine. Social distancing is the only way. With the entire country locked down, it is thus curfew time.

People have slowly become compliant. The police have also scaled-down their numbers after lashing their tongues and lathis to enforce the law in the initial days.

Inside homes, a fear of the unknown has gripped people after the Janata Curfew and the attendant clapping and clanging to appease gods, which was rationalised later as a gesture for raising the morale of the frontline medical warriors. Prayers have intensified after the PM recited the 'Katyayani Mantra' and performed yogic exercises, in full view of the nation. And, new normalcy of life has set in, people watching TV channels – Coronavirus news and repeats of old serials, and trying to make the most of the prolonged detention. Running out of routine, some are looking to experiment with new and creative options. Poor liquor-addicts are, however, passing through painful withdrawals. Clearly, some are lucky, and some are not.

COVID-luck smiled twice on a WB labourer who had gone to Kerala to earn higher wages. Trains stopped only after he safely returned home and soon he won Rs 6 crores in a lottery. But, bad luck is hitting lakhs of others from Bihar, UP, Rajasthan, etc. Some such workers from Mumbai, on a long trek to Rajasthan, were mowed down by a speeding tempo and four died on the spot. Some are dying with exhaustion much before they reach home. Some of them, like in Badaum in UP, are made to hop and crawl with their bags strapped on their backs as punishment. Some are sprayed with anti-larvae disinfectants as if they are inanimate, like in Bareilly. Their return-migration in hordes is not only a humanitarian problem, but it defeats the very purpose of the lockdown and the valiant efforts of our medical warriors.

In spite of the ode to them on the day of the Janata Curfew and the risks to their lives due to non-availability of personal protective gears, doors are being shut on medical professionals faces and they are being asked to vacate houses in several cities. GTB and AIIMS in Delhi find themselves short of essential items. Their desperation can be read in the words, 'Send the N95 masks and PPEs to our grave,' shown on a placard on the Facebook page of Medicos United.

The sad fact is that the Indian government has floated a global tender only last week for one million coveralls and goggles, four million N-95 masks, two million nitrile gloves, etc. when the WHO had strongly advised their stockpiling in February itself. Further, it has only announced insurance of Rs 50 lakhs each but no risk incentive to motivate them.

While the number of cases has already crossed 2,300 and the deaths are over 50, there is still great apprehension of exponential increase because of several cascades setting in. A priest from Punjab, after his foreign tour, has infected many people in 15 villages. Similarly, Bollywood singer Kanika Kapoor got in contact with several of the high and mighty. In MP, a journalist who had covered the press meet of Kamal Nath on March 20, which was attended by journalists from Delhi too, was tested positive. Foreign returnees clearly did not follow the quarantine protocol. Instances of such behaviour are innumerable, the latest being the mosque congregation in Nizamabad area. Even if one affected person is left out while tracing these contacts, there would be an explosive disaster. As such, experts say that the number of cases could be 1 to 13 lakh till mid-May, with one to two per cent fatalities.

Although the PM has apologised for the lockdown, he should have announced the lockdown without procrastination, heeding the wisdom of Rahul Gandhi who had forecasted in February itself about an impending Coronavirus tsunami and the WHO had advised in the same month. Indeed, the danger signals started coming from China from the end of December itself. Rahul Gandhi was heckled, while the BJP was busy scheming But, Taiwan and South Korea responded instantly.

With adequate health infrastructure and medical protocol already in place since the SARS-virus outbreak in Taiwan in 2003, they instantly deployed every resource in their action plan. Testing, quarantining, retesting, educating people, constant monitoring, etc., along with banning of flights, helped. Similarly, South Korea scaled-up production of test kits, established test centres and provided mobile units. Apps for self-checking symptoms was developed and provided at hotels, offices, public places. CCTVs, Credit Cards, GPS, etc., were used to track down the identified victims. People were alerted on phone applications about the patient's movements. Intense awareness was created through TV and other media about social distancing, quarantine, etc.

Now, both countries are breathing easy, although they are still wary. But, in our country, politics takes precedence over everything else, since political executive has been allowed to bulldoze every institution and contemptuously ignore the advice of experts and the voice and concerns of the opposition.

The entire country is closely watching the COVID politics being played. It is evident that the lockdown was delayed by a day to facilitate the BJP CM's swearing-in on March 23, that too in the presence of a huge crowd of people. No action is taken against the ministers who arranged buses for migrant labourers. It is this arrangement that has triggered their exodus at several places, primarily from Delhi. Yet, the Delhi CM has been snubbed and 2 senior officers suspended for arranging buses for the daily wagers to reach UP borders to bridge with the transport arrangements in UP. Why this discrimination? Also, not a word was said when the UP CM, in violation of the curfew rules, performed a religious function at Ayodhya. Furthermore, every opportunity is being used for the promotion of the BJP and the PM, including the creation of PM-Cares Fund without any members from the opposition or social leadership, when we already have a regularly audited PM's National Relief Fund.

It is not the time for COVID politics. The priority should be for planning and coordination by all political parties, all states and centre, together, for tackling the problem on hand, and to revive our economic activity.

New innovations are the need of the hour. Converting rail coaches into isolation wards, as being contemplated, is certainly addresses such needs. Similarly, our own virologist at MyLab, Pune, has produced a low-cost kit that would help in quick-testing. Further, our doctors have successfully treated Coronavirus using a combination of drugs – Lopinavir, Retonovir, Oseltamivir, along with chloroquine. It will at least help till a vaccine is found. In the meanwhile, we must make the most of our 'curfew time'.

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