Friday, November 27, 2020

Be alert

It is good to see that the Government of Nagaland is taking all precautionary measures to ensure that the coronavirus outbreak do not reach the State. Gearing up mechanisms and strategies to prevent the virus from reaching our part of the world, the Government has closed all educational institutions till April 12, as well as closure of cinema halls and suspension of weekly bazaars. The State has also banned entry of all tourists (foreign and domestic) with effect from March 18 till further orders, as well as suspending issuance of new/fresh Inner Line Permits (ILP). It has also constituted a special action group (SAG) to continuously monitor the situation, and to ensure that actions are taken in order to keep Nagaland in readiness for any eventuality, apart from taking prompt measures for prevention and control of the spread of the virus. This is imperative as the number of coronavirus cases in the country have reached 137. Both panic and lack of preparedness would prove to be dangerous. Unfortunately, there are signs of lacunae on both fronts. It is important to understand the exact threat of the virus, its ability to impact large swathes of population steeped in lack of awareness and the absence of a cure. Till researchers can find remedies to overcome this huge challenge, which will take months, if not a complete year, it is time to grapple with ways in which the disease can be prevented and managed through timely interventions. Though coronavirus can be deadly, empirical evidence available shows that the percentage of its lethal-ness is quite meagre. According to the WHO’s report issued on March 17, the virus has infected 168,000 people and killed over 6,600 globally, revealing that it is only a small fraction of about 3 to 4 percent of the afflicted people with acute form of coronavirus who are at the danger level. Most other cases are known to have been cured after the mild form of virus dies on its own with a little bit of care. This information demonstrates that though the world needs to be concerned about the virus, panic that often proved counter-productive must be shunned. Here it can also be said that the hasty ways in which schools are being ordered shut and travel is being postponed will have a deleterious impact on economy and every profession. Besides panic buying and hoarding of supplies like masks and hand sanitizers is creating shortages in the market which will leave the far more needier, by virtue of their frail health conditions, deprived. Though Indian government has claimed to have fully geared up to combat the challenge, starting from screenings at airports and enhancing test laboratory facilities as well as cancelling events and travel, the worry is not only of slip between the cup and the lip, these steps remain inadequate as they betray a poor sense of the phenomenon that the world is grappling with. The disease cannot be fully prevented simply by screening and laboratory tests followed by isolation of the affected person and medical health-care. Researchers have pointed out the difficulty of ensuring adequate safety and immunity against the coronavirus since the incubation period between infection and showing any symptoms lasts up to 14 days. Some researchers say it may even be up to 24 days. This necessitates the entry point of surveillance mechanisms through existing health infrastructure, some of which is already in shambles and is also characterized by the vast gap between the rural and the urban areas. Thus, India requires a massive gearing up of the existing system on the patterns of the anti-polio drive which has been a remarkable feat despite an uneven health-care system. Also, massive awareness drives need to be taken up on a war-footing about necessary hygiene and prevention. Though some of this is being effectively done through caller tunes on mobile phones and advertisements, health-workers and volunteers need to meet communities, particularly those vulnerable, to educate them. The Government should also hand out hygiene kits to the poor. The real challenge, however, would be if, God forbid, the outbreak reaches our State. How well would the uneven health-care system be able to deal with the eventuality? The guard must not be lowered.