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With COVID-19 Flourishing Unhindered Are We Allowing The Survivors To Envy The Dead? – OpEd

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COVID-19 cannot be wished away! We do not know enough about the long term effects of the disease.  However, we know that under unbridled electioneering, face to face campaigns, political agitations, religious ceremonies and rituals the “smart” virus may flourish unhindered. This is because there is total lack of COVID-19 appropriate behaviour in vast sections of the population. Specialists have observed long term damage to organs such as heart, lung, brain etc even in patients who suffered mild form of COVID-19. Do we want to see thousands of sickened survivors in our society to envy the dead just because they ignored the well established COVID-19 norms?

We have to act now to avoid such a crisis. The truth is bitter. If 5% of the 50,000 or so new patients suffer damage to their vital organs it may be a huge burden on our already stretched health care facilities.

Lukewarm public response

Both Central and State Governments have been monitoring the status of the Pandemic at every level. However, public response has been lukewarm. Compliance with COVID-norm does not exist even in paper.  In spite of heroic efforts the message did not reach the public. 

We saw the rate of new cases increasing sharply after every festival. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the disease spreads quietly among small groups of people who attended weddings, funerals and religious rituals etc. State authorities have prescribed maximum number of persons permitted to attend various events. Compliance of the conditions is mostly voluntary

With 718 Districts and 605,805 villages (The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Gramin) report), there will always be groups of individuals offering generous, nascent green fields for the virus to thrive! 

Adverse impact of elections

Election complicates what is already a very unhealthy situation. Watch any leader addressing the media. He will ceremoniously remove the mask at the very beginning.  Normally, he may not wear it again. This applies to all – highest to the smallest in the hierarchy.  Many who wear a mask do not wear it properly!  When the leader is holding the fort, the junior ones position themselves close to him. The herd does not want a photo-op to go waste! If any one of them is infected he may generously spread the disease to others

They must read the paper in Physics of Fluids (23 February 2021)  Journal which showed that infected persons speaking  in the presence of others can spread the infection. 

 Speaking loud during electioneering and agitations with crowds milling round is a super spreader activity.  With infinite scope for face to face contact among thousands of people, it is nightmare with unprecedented consequences not from a gentle wave but from a tsunami of COVID-19 cases. Studies showed that the number of particles emitted from mouth depended on the intensity of sound!

Kerala, the most literate State (literacy 96.2% according to National Statistical Office) shamelessly condoned the most inappropriate behaviour of a political leader who rode on the shoulders of obliging followers while coming to attend a function!

Dr Anthony Fauci Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Bethesda, Maryland, USA and his colleagues quoted evidence that up to 40% to 45% of people infected with SARS-CoV-2 may never be symptomatic but still can transmit the virus (the New England Journal of Medicine, 26 October 2020). 

“Viral spread from people without symptoms may account for more than 50% of transmission events in COVID-19 outbreaks. Since it has now become evident that individuals capable of transmitting SARS-CoV-2 cannot be identified solely by the presence of symptoms, universal mask wearing in the community for source control is recommended”  they clarified.

We must continue to follow universal masking, hand washing, physical distancing, and avoiding crowds etc to keep away the virus effectively all the time, even when safe and effective vaccines are available.

The COVID-19 saga in Kerala started  on January 27, 2020 when  a 20 year old female who returned from  Wuhan city China on January 23 presented to the Emergency Department in General Hospital, Thrissur, Kerala, with a one-day history of dry cough and sore throat.(Indian Journal of Medical Research, May 2020).

Shortly thereafter, the entire State Government machinery, NGOs and volunteers at large took up the challenge 

 MIT Technology Review (What the world can learn from Kerala about how to fight Covid -19, 13 April 2020) described how one Indian state is flattening the curve through epic levels of contract tracing and social assistance.

The steps Kerala took to face the pandemic was applauded by many.

“The state used innovative approaches and its experience in disaster management planning came in handy to quickly deploy resources and put up a timely and comprehensive response in collaboration with key stakeholders. Active surveillance, setting up of district control rooms for monitoring; capacity-building of frontline health workers, risk communication and strong community engagement, and addressing the psychosocial needs of the vulnerable population are some of the key strategic interventions implemented by the state government that kept the disease in control. (WHO   2 July 2020)

This was during the glorious past. Now, Kerala fell from grace. The writing on the wall is loud and clear, every leader who interacts with people face to face ignoring COVID norms and give loud lectures must take care. The enlightened people who know the consequences must name them and shame them. Everyone must follow COVID- 19 norms scrupulously.

I write this more in anguish than in anger!  For over 100 days, thousands of agitating farmers (many, over 60) have been throwing caution to the winds!  Huge crowds in election-bound States behave most inappropriately. Not a single leader of any party has been asking them to follow COVID norms! COVID norms alone can help till a major fraction of our compatriots are vaccinated. Kumbh Mela may contribute to the tragedy.

When the situation in Kerala was developing from bad to worse, this writer approached the editor of a leading daily (with editions from 17 places) to request the entire print and electronic media to publicize on a selected day a brief note on what is in store for the people of the State  if  they  ignore COVID-19 norms. He appreciated the idea but hesitated to act on it. That daily has done commendable service on many socially relevant matters such as rain water harvesting, starting mini farms  etc. Influencing millions of readers.

Once the Election Commission declared the dates for election, the entire media focussed exclusively on elections. Nothing else counted. Media could not see the elephant in the room!

Present status of the Pandemic

The Union Health Ministry  disclosed that eight States, including Maharashtra, Karnataka and Punjab have reported a high number of daily Covid-19 cases and account for 84.5% of the 68,020 fresh cases recorded in the country in a day;  Maharashtra has reported the highest daily rise of 40,414 Covid-19 cases, followed by  Karnataka 3,082;  Punjab 2,870; Madhya Pradesh 2,276; Gujarat  2,270;  Kerala 2,216;  Tamil Nadu 2,194 and  Chhattisgarh 2,153.  Five States — Maharashtra, Kerala, Punjab, Karnataka and Chhattisgarh — cumulatively account for 80.17% of the total active cases in the country.

The Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG), a grouping of 10 National Laboratories under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, disclosed that   771 variants of concerns (VOCs) have been detected in a total of 10,787 positive samples, including the following lineages:  736 samples positive for viruses of the UK (B.1.1.7); 34 samples of the South African (B.1.351) and one sample of the Brazilian (P.1).  With their impact unknown,  this must concern every one.

India’s COVID-19 situation is turning from “bad to worse,”   a Mumbai daily quoted a senior government official on Tuesday, as infections surge across several states.

The Health Ministry revealed that while Delhi is among the 10 worst-hit COVID districts, Maharashtra has 8 of them.

Vaccination programme is progressing well. As of 30 March 2021, 6.3 crore (63 million) doses were administered through10, 46,757 sessions across the country-a loadable achievement.  However, the crisis is far from over. 

Role of the public

While the State and Central governments enforce viable restrictions to combat the virus, public must strictly comply with COVID norms — Universal masking, hand washing, physical distancing, and avoiding crowds. This can go a long way in vanquishing the virus. People must get vaccinated promptly when their turn comes.  They must intervene politely if any one violates the norms. 

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Dr. K S Parthasarathy

Dr. K S Parthasarathy is former Secretary, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board and a former Raja Ramanna Fellow in the Strategic Planning Group, Department of Atomic Energy, Mumbai. Dr. K S Parthasarathy may be contacted at [email protected]

4 thoughts on “With COVID-19 Flourishing Unhindered Are We Allowing The Survivors To Envy The Dead? – OpEd

  • April 1, 2021 at 8:00 am
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    An excellent article. Indeed the Covid inappropriate behaviour is like a time bomb and we only hope that it does not explode to large number of Covid cases in India. Even if we can expect a large number of old people to get vaccinated in 3 months time and reduce mortalities, the concern about young getting infected and some 5% (day) of them having some long-term effect on some of the organs is a concern. As vaccinating all will take several.months stressing on Covid appropriate behaviour and penalties for not obeying them us the way forward.

    Reply
  • April 3, 2021 at 5:29 am
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    The facts and figures are already there. Creating awareness is a major factor in controlling the pandemic which the political leaders, health authorities, Administration and the Media have to collectively tackle as aptly pointed out in the article. Thanks Dr Parthasarathy for bringing out this succinctly..

    Reply
  • April 3, 2021 at 2:30 pm
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    Deae KSP,
    What you have written unfortunately is true. Till the time behave themselves, no amount of restrictions can help the situation. Again, a very interesting observation. We have so many elections rallies where rules are flouted by the leaders themselves, but no increase in positive cases from these have come to light. Likewise, from Kisan andolan, not many have been found infected. May be the cases will come now. On one hand, business people want no lockdown as it affects their business but on the other hand the public does not behave. In a city like Mumbai, starting of train services for local movement has shown that it is almost impossible to maintain any norm. Even the masks are not being used what to say of social distancing. The only thing left to an individual is to protect himself by observing all norms. Let’s hope for the best. I hope the media takes up the awareness programme in a big way to possibly impress upon the public the need for it. Best wishes.

    Reply
  • April 4, 2021 at 8:58 pm
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    Dr. KSP, I share your anguish on the second wave of Covid-19 ravaging the country, with Maharashtra being the worst hit. Covid-appropriate behavior/control has taken the back seat since obviously losing in the elections means political death. In comparison, with good probabiliity, one will recover from covid-19 infection and if you are a politician in power, you are assured good treatment. Hence, I don’t expect the public at large to consistently follow covid-appropriate behavior. Recently, I went to a grocery shop and on seeing the shop-keeper not wearing a mask, asked him why is he not wearing one. He nonchalantly replied, “Nothing has happened to us, why should I wear one”. Law enforcing authorities too are fed-up. Total-lockdown is not a workable solution or best a temporary solution, till the next wave. As Arvind Mahindra said, reviving and enlarging our covid-19 facilities along with vaccination may be the only solution to the anguish we bear. Our anguish is our problem, the public doesn’t care!

    Reply

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