Writer- Nitin Saxena
New Delhi: What a shame! The COVID 19 warriors except for the doctors have no body and face shields while on duty except for a face mask that is perhaps locally made. They are bare and exposed to the virus. The law enforcing agencies personnel, teachers and the pilots ferrying stranded people and carrying the test samples are taking the brunt of the government’s negligence as over 200 among them have been declared positive in the last 20 days. Not to mention doctors and nursing staff already hit by the virus. Most people are hanging their heads down as a silent protest against the government’s failure epidemiologically, administratively and technically in handling the outbreak effectively.
The government was all in praise and Prime Minister Narendra Modi came out as a master in handling crisis of this magnitude initially. Stories were planted in media regarding the containment of the disease from spreading comparing the death rates with America, Spain and Italy, the worse hit countries. Every Indian was made to feel proud.
Prime minister in his address to the nation reiterated how India had been able to prevent the virus spread because of the early shutdown and adhering to maintain physical distance. Showers were heaped on the prime minister. Then media reports pointed out that most Europeans and americans were finding India to be the next tourist destination as it had proved to be safer.
But nobody read the virus could penetrate even at the remotest place. The Mumbai jail at Arthur Road discovered to the chagrin of the authorities that some inmates had been tested positive. The WHO report, two week ago, kept staring the government which said ‘don’t think the virus can’t reach you’.
Finding the turbulence of revolt and dissatisfaction among the migrant labourers and the small-time shopkeepers who feared their survival with their rotational cycle of income going to the wind, the government decided to lift the ‘siege’ with a few restrictions knowing well that this move will have a mixed reaction but the majority of its vote-bank electorate would rejoice. A wrong move which would just multiply the figures of positive cases and may cross 120 thousand by the month end.
The self-analysis by the government must have given them a fair idea that it was not possible to track the contacts all over the country and quarantine them in a infrastructure that was not there. But to show that all was well, the government kept on juggling the figures and with the media behind, the nation was given a rosy picture.
The recent announcement of certain trains to be operation is restricted to the ‘better class’ travellers. Online booking. Online payment. These two mandatory tools will push the poor migrants a bit too far. Even if they want to book online, it would have been easier to troop into a cyber café and do the needful with the guys assistance. For getting an App downloaded will be too cumbersome for them. But this will not be done. These poor may not be having the kind of money to enable them to travel in an air-conditioned coach. And reaching station will be a problem for them in any case. This is a glaring example of the ‘paucity of the brain’ of the bureaucracy. But who cares.
It may have been difficult to give the COVID 19 warriors overalls initially but sensing that COVID 19 is here to stay, the government could have placed an electronic tender for a bacteria free fabric for the frontline warriors other than in hospitals. But in the race to get international pats, the government forgot that these people also had to be given a protective gear.
The teachers who have been deputed to oversee the food-distribution at various schools are at tremendous risk as most of the food seekers are coming from areas which have had no testing done in the last almost 50 days. A silent infection carrier may pose a tremendous threat. There is no thermal scanning of the people queued for the food-distribution.
The government is found wanting in procuring the thermal temperature guns which, if given to the concerned policeman and government staff, would have proved an effective deterrent, But the bureaucracy was out planning and executing bigger things.
Speedy intensity of the tests, precision, contact-tracing, procuring equipment and setting up of more testing labs should have been the foremost agenda while discussing means to combat the virus and its spread. Next would have come the distribution of food, setting up of shelters and an organized expedited hiring of volunteers for assisting the ground staff of the law enforcers. But this was not done except in certain case where the local station house officer of a few police stations organized a force of volunteers to help them during the rush hours in the evening and morning for buying the essentials.
Since the government is planning to reopen a part of designated railway and air traffic, the question of contact tracing has become all the more important. The government had been claiming that it had been satisfactorily done the contact tracing in many areas and had also rounded up people for getting their tests done. But it remains a big
It is a disgrace that a total of almost over Rs 60 lakh crore is in government kitty received from World Bank and its own PM care fund and it has not been able to distribute personal protection equipment (PPE) to the people serving in containment areas and otherwise. The policemen manning the barriers are simply wearing a mask, which, in all probability, is not very effective. They are interacting with people assessing the need for the movement in the red zones. The much touted America’s Centre for Disease Control (CDC) had earlier made it very clear that the face masks are no shield against the virus but will be helpful in your infection to others.
Some people have also shown swelling on their lips and part of columella nasi with red rashes on the nose and chin after wearing the face mask for over three to four hours. The morning joggers feel that the face mask is a hurdle in breathing normally.
The PPE may be worse, as some manufacturers say, for the on field staff as the inflow of air inside is minimal. Doctors don’t perspire as most of the hospitals are airconditioned. Standing under the sun will put them more in discomfort.
Without talking concrete on the steps being taken after May 17 when in all possibilitys the government is planning to lift the shutdown in a staggered way and continue with it till 23 which is reported to be a condition laid on India by the World Bank when it gave the loan for fighting the virus.
The government had earlier announced allocating a sum of Rs 1.75 lakh crore for combatting the disease which in due course was publicized as a super-spreader disease. The media particularly the tv news channels were trumpeting the super active state of the government in giving succor to the people and putting in service the best doctors for treating the COVID 19 patients and the suspected ones too.
The question of prime interest is – is the government functioning praiseworthy or it failed as the virus spread. It could not think beyond showering rose petals on the warriors from the air all over the country but with prime objective to stay on the pages of written history tomorrow and overmorrow.