A Political Lockdown?

By Ashwin Tombat
19 July 2020 18:50 IST


A friend sent me a joke by WhatsApp. It says: “A lockdown is like the movie Dabangg. It doesn't make any sense, but sequels keep getting made.” It perfectly describes the ongoing weekend lockdown declared by Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, which ends at 6am tomorrow morning.

Since the initial announcement did not make it clear that provision shops would stay open, there were mad crowds at markets across Goa. Rather than bringing down the Corona Virus numbers, the complete lack of physical distancing measures in the prelude to this latest lockdown will, on the contrary, likely cause an even sharper spike in Covid-19 cases over the next eight days. Even senior BJP leaders are worried. “People had to be informed properly in advance that grocery stores and milk will not be shut,” Dattaprasad Naik, a BJP spokesperson, said.

How about learning from others? The Karnataka government imposed a full lockdown in Bengaluru from Tuesday 14 July evening to Wednesday 22 July. But after the state recorded its highest single-day spike in fresh Covid-19 cases (4,169) as well as deaths (104) on Thursday, Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa declared that the lockdown will not be extended. He said: “Lockdown is not a solution to Covid-19 woes.” It seems Mr Sawant didn’t hear what his senior colleague from Karnataka had to say about lockdowns.  

A proposal by the Israeli government to impose weekend lockdowns that would run from Friday mornings to Sunday mornings was dropped after widespread criticism, even by ministers and ruling coalition members. Tourism Minister Asaf Zamir of the Blue and White party – part of the ruling coalition – openly denounced the move as “reckless”, saying: “This is irresponsible behaviour and without logic.”

The Public Health Committee of the Israel Medical Association said: “Lockdown on weekends… is a decision devoid of epidemiological logic. Decision-making must be… on the basis of epidemiological logic and data, and not on the basis of political considerations.”

Are we experiencing a ‘political lockdown’ in Goa?

A major rift between Governor Satya Pal Malik and CM Pramod Sawant came to light on Thursday, when Mr Sawant emerged from the gates of Raj Bhawan after a meeting called by the Governor and told reporters that Mr Malik was upset with the media painting a “wrong and negative image of the state Covid’s response”. What was “wrong” about the reporting, they asked. “You ask him”, Mr Sawant said.

One intrepid reporter of local television channel Prudent Media did just that. On both local and national television, the Governor decried Mr Sawant’s claims as “improper”. He not only denied blaming the media, but bluntly said that it was a “judgmental error” by the government to not lockdown the whole of Vasco city after the Covid-19 outbreak at Mangor Hill.

When the CM was asked about the Governor’s response, he tried to put a lid on the controversy. “Whatever the Governor has said is right,” he said.

Since then, there have been front page headline reports that the Governor and CM have buried their differences to fight the Covid menace unitedly, but we all know what that means. Obviously, all is not right in the state of Goa.

Sandesh Prabhudesai has written on Goanews.com that a high-level meeting chaired by the CM on Tuesday in advance of the cabinet meeting scheduled for the next day did not discuss the weekend lockdown. It was not even on the agenda of the cabinet meeting on Wednesday. But as soon as the Governor fixed a meeting with the CM for Wednesday evening (it was ultimately postponed to Thursday), the cabinet suddenly decided in its Wednesday meeting to impose a three-day weekend lockdown and a 25-day night curfew from 8pm to 6 am.

We are flooded with WhatsApp forwards saying that there will be a new CM in the coming week. But as is typical with WhatsApp, this prediction is unlikely to be true. Ultimately, if any head does roll in the wake of the present face-off, it is difficult to say which one it will be.

But something urgently needs to be done. Goa has seen over 900 positive cases in the past week, and nine deaths in four days. “We may already have reached the peak,” Mr Sawant said after 170 positive cases on Tuesday. As usual, he was wrong. Wednesday’s toll was 198 new cases, Thursday’s was 157, Friday’s was 196 and Saturday’s was 180, taking the total caseload close to 3,500.

The Verna Industrial Estate has become Goa’s major super-spreader focus. People come to work here from every corner of the state. Verna Pharma company Tulip Diagnostics produces Viral Transport Medium (VTM), used to take Covid-19 swab tests. Ironically, this group of companies had 136 confirmed cases detected till Tuesday. Eight of its units have been shut down, and all its employees sent to home quarantine for 14 days.

What is the importance of super-spreaders? Studies show that Covid-19 transmission follows the 80/20 Pareto Principle – named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto – which says that 80 per cent of new infections are transmitted by fewer than 20 per cent of the carriers; a select minority of individuals aggressively spread the virus.

It appears that one Covid-positive person who lived in Mangor and worked at Tulip Diagnostics in the Verna Industrial Estate turned out to be the super-spreader responsible for infecting his co-workers, who then proliferated it all across Goa. Other companies in the Verna Industrial Estate too, have Covid positive cases…

Lots of outbreaks around the world have been linked to events where a single super-spreader infected dozens of people. Nearly 80 per cent of India’s one-million-plus Covid-19 cases are from just 30 municipal areas spread across 12 states and UTs. More than 100 out of 350 guests at a Patna wedding tested positive. The groom, who died just a day after the wedding, was unwell and had not been tested. The mother-in-law of a Calangute Panch member travelled by road from Mumbai to attend a wedding with more than 400 guests. She didn't self-quarantine or get a Covid negative certificate, and used political connections to duck the test at the border. Days after the wedding, she felt unwell at a party and tested positive.

How strictly is Goa monitoring its borders? Apart from instances like the Panch member’s mother-in-law above, Goa’s resident doctors have complained about being forced to go to the vacation homes of Bollywood starlets in Goa to take Covid-19 swab samples. How do these people escape tests at the airport? If regulations are routinely violated like this, how can we stop the spread of the virus?

Epidemiologists point to the ‘three Cs’ of Covid-19 transmission: closed spaces with poor ventilation, crowded settings, and close contact with others. Mitigating these ‘three Cs’ at work places in industries and offices, preventing large social gatherings and rigorous contact tracing and isolation is the way to fight the virus; not farcical lockdowns.

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

Blogger's Profile

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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Good analysis. Lockdown is like a lip service. Make/force people follow social distancing, sanitation and common sense rules. Learn from New Zealand, Spain, France, Italy and Iceland. May be send Rane, Micheal etc. to Europe on a chartered flight to study how those countries handled Corona :)

It is a tough situation and to put it in a perspective all CMs all over India are doing the same good/bad job. So singling out Pramod Sawant for this failure to control is not fair.

Media and opposition parties are talking big but look at the way how they behave in society.

- Anil, Margao | 20 th July 2020 21:49


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