50% of Zuarinagar Covid positives are Zuari workers; should the factory be shut down?

Sandesh Prabhudesai | 21 July 2020 22:44 IST

Should Zuari Industries at Zuarinagar be also shut down like Tulip Diagnostics at Verna? Because out of 369 Covid positive cases detected till date in Zuarinagar, 177 cases are detected in Goa’s biggest fertilizer factory.

Is Zuarinagar the Covid hotspot or Goa’s over 50-year old factory, which employs over the largest number of 1200 workers from all across Goa?

In spite of such a scary outbreak, neither the major contractor supplying contract workers to the factory nor all the four workers’ unions are in favour of the shutdown.

On the other hand, people living in the villages around the factory like Sancoale, Velsao etc as well as the new high class Vasco suburbs like Dabolim are scared that the Covid virus may spread beyond this Goa’s biggest working class area.

The population at Zuarinagar is estimated at around 20 to 25,000.

In fact the Covid situation at Zuari factory or Zuarinagar has thrown up a big challenge before the Industry of Goa, the economists and the government authorities:  

Shutdown of economy or revival of economy by keeping the industry running?

HOW COVID19 REACHED ZUARI FACTORY

It all started when on 27th June, 24 workers from Zuarinagar were tested positive for Covid19. And it reached the factory from a worker from Mangor, perhaps because only a part of Mangor was declared a containment zone on 1st June, for the reasons best known to Dr Pramod Sawant government.

The infected people living at Mangor and working in different industrial units and also government establishments became the cause of spreading the virus. The government conveniently called it ‘Mangor-linked cases’, but sadly the ‘link’ was not broken with firm steps.

By 1st July, the Covid cases in Zuarinagar shot up to 48. And in the last 25 days, the official figure has reached 380, in and around Zuarinagar of Cortalim Primary  Health Centre.

According to Olancio Simoes, one of the trade union leaders of the contract workers, the actual figure could be 10 times more, but not  confirmed officially.

The graph of Zuarinagar (published here on top) today looks like a deadly Dragon of China, where this virus originated in December last year and has claimed over six lakh deaths all around the Globe till date.

HOW DID COVID SPREAD FROM INSIDE?

But unlike Tulip, Zuari Industries has not only tested its workers entering the factory with the help of ICMR-approved private laboratory Thyrocare, but has also housed the ‘positive’ workers within the factory premises to quarantine them.

Initiative is taken by Atul Jadhav, the major contractor employing almost 80% of Zuari’s contract workers, with the help of the management.

“We have provided them all the basic facilities including food and mattresses etc while also maintaining safe distancing”, Jadhav told goanews.com.

Pratap Mardolkar, another union leader of these contract workers, claims that initially the workers in quarantine were provided poor quality food.

“But we got such issues resolved”, he says.

While the number of Zuarinagar cases remained static at 24 from 27th to 30th June, it doubled on 1st July, when Thyrocare tested the first batch of workers on 1st July.

COVID19 CASES TESTED AT ZUARI INDUSTRIES

DATE

CAME FROM

TESTED

POSITIVE

NEGATIVE

1 July

Outside Batch 1

131

9

122

13 July

Negatives In Factory

40

23

17

18 July

Negatives In Factory

102

65

37

15 July

Outside Batch 2

188

80

108

TOTAL

 

 

177

 

According to information gathered from official sources, 131 workers were tested on the first day of the month, when they entered the factory from their homes. Nine among them were tested positive, except one among them with symptoms, who was immediately shifted to Covid hospital in Margao. Remaining eight asymptomatic workers were immediately shifted to Covid Care Centre managed by the Government.

While Zuari workers now work for 15 days at a stretch, the rest 122 workers were also housed within the campus.

More shocking were the results of these 122 ‘negative’ workers. When they were tested once again while leaving the factory on different days, 88 among them were tested positive. Almost 62%.

It means the contamination has now also reached the factory premises. As a matter of precaution, the 88 workers are also being quarantined within the factory campus.

“We are paying them 75% salary even when they are not working”, says Jadhav.

Meanwhile, the second batch of 188 workers came to work from their respective homes on 15th July. Thyrocare found 80 among them positive. They have been quarantined at the company's Covid Care Centre.

The rest 108 who are working in the factory, mainly in the bagging and dispatch section, would be tested once again on 1st August, confirms the contractor.

HOW ‘NEGATIVES’ BECAME ‘POSITIVE’ INSIDE?

The crucial question remains however is how ‘negative’ workers are turning ‘positive’ within the factory premises.

According to Adv Herculano Dourado, who leads the major chunk of contract workers as their union leader, there are also some small contractors who send their workers to work, without testing.

“Either they are mixing with the ‘negative’ workers or the measures like physical distancing and sanitizing etc are not adhered to as per the defined norms”, he feels.

Contractor Jadhav has a little different theory. Being found negative, according to him, the workers become overconfident and throw all the norms to the winds.

ARE GOVT AUTHORITIES NEGLIGENT?

Quite a few representatives of the local Sancoale panchayat, under which falls the Zuarinagar area, the people housed inside seen skipping out and roaming around openly in the area.

“Some of them living close by even go home and come”, they claimed, while speaking on the condition of anonymity to goanews.com.

As cases started rising, the authorities declared parts of Zuarinagar as a Containment Zone.

CONTAINMENT & BUFFER ZONES

According to the local representatives, the concerned authorities are neglecting their duties due to which the Covid enters the factory premises and then spreads all around.

These representatives also wonder why only Zuari factory is dropped out from the Containment Zone or even the Buffer Zone, when it is surrounded by contaminated areas of the Containment Zone.

IS SHUTDOWN A SOLUTION?

In such an explosive situation, where tests are conducted twice and all workers are housed inside, is it safe to keep the factory running? Is it a major risk when over 300 direct permanent employees in the administrative and technical sections come to work here from all corners of Goa, just not Zuarinagar or Vasco?

“Initially I was of opinion that the factory should be shut down at least for a  month. But as we don’t know when this epidemic will stop, I am a little hesitant to press for the demand. The Covid spread has no boundaries”, says Christopher Fonseca, another trade union leader working among the contract workers of Zuari Industries.

Adding to this, Adv Dourado feels shutting down the factory would lead to major loss as Zuari Industries and other allied industries contribute almost 20% to the state revenue.

All the union leaders however appeared to be unanimous that government authorities like the Collectorate, police and the health department have to tighten its strings in Zuarinagar.

Contractor Atul Jadhav however has yet another suggestion not only for Zuari but the whole industry of Goa.

“Let us conduct antibody tests of all those who have come out successfully after getting Covid positive. They are the safest and fittest people to work. While they are not at risk of spreading Covid anymore, it would also help the economy to revive. Ultimately, developing herd immunity is the only viable solution till the vaccine comes”, he suggests.

Goa’s biggest factory along with the state's equally largest working class area of Zuarinagar has thrown up a vital issue of how to find a balance between control of Covid and revival of the economy.

It needs to be seen how the Goa government faces this challenge and comes out with a viable solution, in the interest of the industry, the workers and the general public at large. 

 


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The suggestion of Mr Atul Jadhav has weight it’s the herd immunity we have to rely as on now as the vaccine is a distant dream

The wheels of economy should run as Christopher proposes stringent Sop must

- Dr francis almeida , Margao | 23 rd July 2020 03:50

 

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