Is the Government Really Fighting Corona Virus?

By Ashwin Tombat
22 March 2020 14:10 IST

An analysis of Internet data shows that in the past one month, the percentage of people searching for information on ‘corona virus’ through the search engine Google was the highest in Goa. Even though the total number of searches was lower than in other states, a higher percentage of Goa’s relatively tiny population was searching for information on the novel coronavirus than in any other state in India. In search statistics, Goa was followed by Karnataka, which saw India's first Covid-19 death when a 76-year-old man who visited Saudi Arabia in January died on Tuesday 10 March.

At the time of writing, thankfully, Goa has yet to see a confirmed case of Covid-19 infection. This is sheer luck; the Goa government simply hasn’t been pro-active, despite the fact that our neighbouring states have many confirmed cases as well as a death each. In fact, Maharashtra has the largest number of cases in the country!  

Covid-19 is a highly infectious disease. In a recent newspaper article, renowned cardiac surgeon Dr Devi Shetty wrote about Biogen, a Boston, USA-based biotech company. It held a conference in the last week of February, attended by 175 senior managers from around the world, including two from Italy. Within a week, 70 of these managers tested positive for Covid-19.

Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand and Japan are the countries most exposed to China, but none of them have runaway rates of infection. This is because all of them were hit by another corona virus epidemic, called SARS, in 2003, and they knew how quickly viral infections spread. All these countries took drastic measures to enforce ‘Social Distancing’, which basically means preventing large gatherings of people.  

Countries like Italy, Iran, France, Germany and Spain took too long to put in these measures and their rates of infection shot up exponentially. Italy now has more deaths than China…!

The Goa government’s record in this regard has been spotty at best. On the advice of Health Minister Vishwajit Rane, the Ketavan Festival of Sacred Music at Old Goa – which attracts a few hundred spectators – was cancelled. But Mr Rane’s recommendations seemed to be ignored when Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant allowed the Shigmo parades – in which thousands of people mingle and dance in close proximity watched by thousands more spectators tightly packed at the side of the road – to go ahead.

Incredibly, the CM left the decision-making to individual Shigmo Samitis. Most of the main Shigmo parades happened, creating an unprecedented health hazard for lakhs of people. Only a few Shigmo Samitis were circumspect enough to call off their parades.

The government then shut down schools and colleges and, later, shopping malls, pubs, weekly markets and coaching classes. However, it stubbornly refused to postpone the Zilla Panchayat (ZP) elections, which were originally scheduled for today.

Just imagine. Around half the state’s population would have been standing in queues, in close proximity to each other, as they waited to vote…

Around 9,500 government employees were to be posted at 1,210 polling booths. They would have to physically handle identity cards of each voter, hand over a pen to sign against their names, ink voters’ index fingers and hand them the ballot paper to vote. Every voter would hold the same rubber stamp to mark the ballot paper…

When polling staff asked their returning officers and mamlatdars about hand sanitizer and face masks, they were told masks and hand sanitizers were out of stock. Liquid soap and water would be provided instead. This means that to stay safe, every employee directly interacting with voters would have to go out of the polling booth to wash hands after each person voted.

Finally, it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement, in his address to the nation on Thursday, of a dawn-to-dusk ‘Janata Curfew’ to be observed today, that resulted in a postponement of the ZP election to Tuesday 24 March. But Covid-19 was not the reason behind the postponement. The CM said it was to ensure “wider participation”!

Finally, on Friday, after a conscientious Ponnjekar called Kenneth Silveira filed a writ in the High Court, the State Election Commission (SEC) announced an indefinite postponement of the election. The government also announced on Friday that school and Goa Board examination were cancelled, and fresh dates would be announced later.

But has the government really learnt anything? On Friday, the same day that the Department of Education (DoE) cancelled exams, it also issued a circular to secondary and higher secondary schools asking students to participate in Baba Ramdev’s Surya Namaskar ‘record breaking’ event for the Asia Book of Records. From 3.30pm to 7pm on Monday 20 April, in the presence of Baba Ramdev and Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant, thousands of Goan students will have to perform 108 sets of Surya Namaskars to enable the great Baba to set his record.  

Whither social distancing…?

The Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) – the state’s apex representative body of the tourism industry – has suggested that the government must impose a total lockdown of the state’s borders and airport. That is a good suggestion. The period of this ban could coincide with the central government’s embargo on all incoming international flights for a week.

The state’s travel and tourism industry faces the greatest losses at the present time. Still, it is putting the health and well-being of the people of Goa first. The government we elected to represent our interests is doing quite the opposite.

Let us hope Goa remains case-free or is only minimally affected by the Covid-19 novel corona virus. But we really have to keep our fingers crossed; the Goa government has shown little political will in this matter.  

NRC Raises its Head Again…
On Tuesday, the central government said in a sworn affidavit before the Supreme Court of India that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a ‘necessary exercise’. The affidavit read: “It is submitted that the preparation of a national register of citizens is a necessary exercise for any sovereign country for mere identification of citizens from non-citizens.”

In December, Prime Minister Modi publicly claimed that his government was not thinking about the NRC and had, in fact, “never” spoken about it. It seems he was not really telling the truth. Covid-19 may be hogging the headlines right now, but the BJP-led central government is obviously determined to proceed with this deeply divisive exercise.

First published in Lokmat (Marathi) Goa edition on Sunday 22 March 2020

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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Is it sheer luck or is the goa govt hidding data for us?

- Denali, Bardez | 23 rd March 2020 11:53


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