Govt’s Covid Bulletin should ‘lead’ us, not mislead

By Sandesh Prabhudesai
25 July 2020 20:33 IST

Daily health bulletin on the status of Covid cases is the most authentic and official document all Goans wait for every day evening, while sitting at home the whole day. Those who know get it from the official Twitter handle and circulate  while others wait for the official media to publish.. Because it gives a fair idea of Covid scenario around us, which has imprisoned us within the four walls. 

The official Covid bulletin, thus, is not a mere game of numbers. It is also not a document of ‘information’ alone, but also ‘knowledge’. A direction in terms of taking precautions, being cautious, alert and also helping us overcome unnecessary panic.

भिवपाची गरज आसा काय ना?

Therefore, the Covid Bulletin needs a defined perspective.

It needs to be prepared with a sense of Social Responsibility. 

Does the Covid bulletin issued every day by the Goa government have this defined perspective? Does it enlighten us about the ground realities? Is it authentic?

No, it’s not. In fact, it’s misleading! 

The structure of this Covid bulletin has gone into modifications and remodifications from the time Goa started reporting about Covid cases in March, little before the first positive case was detected on 25th March. 

No doubt it helped us immensely to know the real situation in Goa, but it also created lots of confusion, perhaps due to bureaucratic laxity in preparing it. For not less than a month, it was providing two figures of Curtorim in two different places. (goanews.com had to once apologise as these contrasting figures created panic among the people of Curtorim.)

Similar was the case of Taleigao figures. Cases of Camrabhat were reported separately while others were clubbed together as Taleigao in general and one specific case as Curca-Shankarwadi. Curca is a vaddo at the southern border of Curca-Bamblim panchayat while Shankarwadi is a northerrnmost locality of Taleigao, adjoining Panaji. It created panic in both the villages. And sometimes figures at the Primary Health Centres (like Chinchinim or Betki) enraged the people since there were no Covid cases in their respective villages. 

The most infuriated are the people of Chicalim panchayat where two deaths have occurred due to Covid but not a single positive case was officially reported in the Covid bulletin. The ignorance played havoc like it continues to play in the name of Cortalim health centre when 90% of these cases are from Zuarinagar, which is part of Sancoale village. 

Perhaps the Directorate of Health Services realised this as they have now found the most convenient short-cut. Reporting data of its 33 health centres, under which come 191 village panchayats and 14 municipal towns.  No break-up of villages & towns is provided. And hardly any Goan knows which other villages or towns fall under the jurisdiction of their health centre. 

Hence, the data released every day also creates panic as, for example, they want to know whether Candolim PHC figures belong to their Nerul village, the containment area. Similarly, cases in Canacona (only one health centre for the whole taluka) are in the deep forests of Cotigao or Goa’s border village of Loliem-Pollem on the national highway. 

The rumour mongers take advantage of this and joyously (sadistic pleasure in fact) jump at Facebook and WhatsApp to create more panic. This is ‘criminal’.  

And from the time the DHS has started providing only ‘Totals’ and not ‘today’s new cases’ at micro level,the confusion is mounting day by day. 

In order to find out ‘today’s cases’ in each area, goanews.com started analysing the changing scenario by feeding the data in Excel sheet. And see what the result is: 

For example, let’s take the bulletin of 24th July 2020. 

The total number of new Covid cases in Goa on 24th July were 190. But when we cross-checked the figure with the total of new cases at different health centres, the figure shrunk down to only 65. In the North 22 and 43 in the South. Where did the rest of the 125 cases disappear? Which areas do they belong to?

Possibly, this is not a deliberate confusion created in order to hide the information but a faulty system being adopted in analysing the data. While providing total positive figures of each health centre, the DHS deducts the number of cured cases, adds the new cases and provides a total figure. 

For example, in Chimbel total number of positive cases were 87 on 23rd July and 78 on 24th July. It means 9 people have recovered and not a single new case is recorded. But it’s quite possible that actually 15 people recovered and 6 new positive cases were detected. But these newly found cases remained hidden in  this erroneous system of calculation and people remained ignorant about the continuing spread of Covid around them. 

Obviously such situations result in overconfidence, though foolish, and they crowd to buy fish without maintaining social distancing, a kind of herd mentality. In the bargain, the genuine purpose of the health bulletin gets defeated while cases keep rising. 

It thus becomes a waste of time and energy while these bulletins are also wasting space to tell us how many travelers of international as well as domestic flights are quarantined, how many are under institutional quarantine and how many are in home quarantine. 

Well, the general public simply wants to know how many are being quarantined. 

But the most important information of how many Covid patients are being hospitalised has never been provided till date, including the number of patients discharged. 

And this whole section shown below is nothing but waste of space since the same figures shown in the first box are repeated. 

Instead, DHS could very well follow the formats shown below (just a suggestion which could very well be modified further by the experts), with formulae fed in advance in the Excel sheet. 

Well, it could also be argued that this would lead to a lengthy list of 191 panchayats and 14 municipal towns. But this could very well be minimised by providing data of only ‘today’s positive cases’ and other villages and towns could be hidden before converting it into a pdf format, while updating the daily data in the hidden sheets.

CLICK HERE FOR PROPER VIEWING

The most important among all, however, is the first box: “Status of Covid Cases since 29 January 2020”. This provides us a bird’s eye view, with a sigh of relief than needless panic. Like, though cases are rising, over 90% are testing negative, hardly 4% are positive, over 63% among them are getting cured, only 8% are hospitalised, almost 14% are already discharged and death rate is not even 1%. (All figures are not authentic due to non-availability of official data.) 

The DHS has done this exercise once at a media briefing on 13th July, which was addressed by doctors, not just bureaucrats. The same could replicate in daily health bulletins, with the help of more competent hands than us, in the DHS. 

Ultimately, the final goal is to break the chain and build a new chain of Togetherness in Distress!

Blogger's Profile

Sandesh Prabhudesai

Sandesh Prabhudesai is a journalist, presently the Editor of goanews.com, Goa's oldest exclusive news website since 1996. He has earlier worked as the Editor-in-Chief of HCN and Prudent, Goa's TV channels and Editor of Sunaparant, besides working as a reporter for Goan and national dailies & weeklies in English and Marathi since 1987. He also reports for the BBC. He is also actively involved in literary and cultural activities.

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