Wednesday, June 23, 2021
Column

Coronavirus Cogitations: Much thinking last night

Monalisa Changkija

Last night, I kept on thinking: what if our first Covid-19 positive case was a Naga? Would COVID-19 Hospital, Dimapur, have referred her/him to Guwahati? Yes, because COVID-19 Hospital, Dimapur, was not, and reportedly still not, fully ready for admit patients. In hindsight, it was probably the best thing this Hospital did; and prevented infection especially amongst our health front-liners, because at that time, we didn’t even have PPEs and other requisites. This decision has also exposed the truth about our Government’s preparedness. So then I thought about our Government ~ my thoughts were: Coronavirus-Government, Government-Coronavirus and repeat.

I wondered further about our Government insisting that Dimapur’s case is Assam’s because the patient tested positive in Assam. Is it a matter of geography alone or something(s) else? Will we ever know our Government’s mysterious ways? Or, is it a case of trying too hard to make ways mysterious? Does it realize that the more the mysterious ways, the more obvious they become in temporal matters? Then I thought of Arunachal, whose Government did not abandon the state’s first COVID-19 patient, a non-Arunachali, who is now reported to be cured. Here, you cannot miss Arunachal Government’s preparedness. Also, the news that our Government hadn’t liaised with GMCH regarding Dimapur’s patient under treatment there, till the time of writing this.

Anyway, in terms of technicalities, our Government has a point. There are thousands of people from various states, who have tested positive and are under treatment all over the country. These cases are counted in the tally of the states they are tested and treated. So, if a Naga tests positive in Mumbai and is hospitalized there, the case goes to the Maharashtra tally. The difference is that Maharashtra would not necessarily reveal the identity of the patient, which our Government did ~ hence all the confusion and controversy here. Now we will have to go by the ICMR and the Central Government’s tally ~ even if Himanta Biswa Sarma wouldn’t count this patient, a citizen of Nagaland, in the Assam tally.

 So, I again wondered, does our geography really count in matters of life and death? Think of the large number of our people, who have sought treatment and even died at Guwahati and other Indian cities. How important is geography when one is fighting for life? Makes you wonder, doesn’t it, why we fight for geography and even think human life is a small price for geography? I cannot think of a better argument for prioritizing life over geography. Anyway, before I digress further, it is a fact that cases of patients with whatever diseases are counted in the hospitals’ tally where the patients are treated. And the tallies of such treatment or death are counted in the states where the hospitals are located. So, for example, if a person from Nagaland undergoes treatment and dies at Delhi, his/her death is included in the tally of deaths in Delhi, and the appropriate authorities there issue the death certificate, not Nagaland. So, in the light of this, our Government is right that we still have a zero COVID-19 positive case in Nagaland. Assam’s Medical Minister may not include our citizen’s COVID-19 status in the Assam tally but our neighbor will definitely take all credits for his recovery and we cannot deny Assam that.

Ah, if only we had good quality healthcare delivery system ~ particularly well- constructed, well-equipped and well-prepared COVID-19 Hospital at Dimapur, we could have tested and treated our citizen ~ irrespective of race, religion and gender. And we could have taken all credits as Manipur did with 2 of its cured COVID-19 patients ~ so also Arunachal. Assam also deserves all plaudits for its increasing number of recovered cases. Assam has only 1 death so far. Alas, today the whole world knows that Nagaland has no healthcare delivery system worth the name and is dependent on a neighbouring state. Our Government certainly has a lot to answer. But would it ~ without excuses and justifications?

If that’s not bad enough, we still haven’t heard from our Government regarding burial and cremation protocols of COVID-19 cases, should such misfortunate occur in the state. There is an enormous lack of awareness and misinformation regarding burial/cremation of such patients. It would be disastrous, a tragedy and a huge humiliation for Nagaland if public organizations were to dictate on sensitive COVID-19 issues such as burials and cremations ~ and literally take governance and the rule of law into their hands. Before things get out of hand, mainly due to misinformation and lack of awareness ~ and biases and prejudices thereof ~ as we have seen in Meghalaya, our Government ought to announce the burial and cremation protocols of COVID-19 cases in accordance with WHO and Government of India guidelines and ensure that its directives are not challenged and contravened. It must also create public awareness. I have no evidence but I am informed that our Directorate of Health and Family Welfare already has the guidelines on the issue. If so, our Medical Minister may please inquire why such guidelines have not been made public as yet and ensure its announcement post haste. Surely, our Government doesn’t want a Shillong-like law and order situation after the demise of Meghalaya’s first COVID-19 patient? Surely, our Government doesn’t want to embarrass itself further? Mind you folks, India, including the GoI, is keeping a very tight eye on Nagaland ~ not least because of the videos of those despicable incidents that have gone viral. And, of course, because we couldn’t even treat one patient ~ and yes, the thousands of other cases referred for treatment to Guwahati and other places for decades, which have come to national notice now.

 There may not be much behavioural change in electoral politics in Nagaland in the next polls vis-à-vis the voters. But keeping in mind the already changed politics at the national level over the past 6 years, no national political entity at the Centre now would like to be associated and aligned with non-performing political parties and state Governments. Ultimately, Coronavirus or no Coronavirus, politics will claim the day. So, no one with winning chances will tolerate shortcomings, inefficiencies, ineffectiveness, political ennui and plain inability and disinterest to deliver. Yes, Coronavirus is changing the world ~ politics, as we have known, seen and played it, will be the first casualty ~ and is already primed for change. If our political class is unprepared, it will be forced to give way to newer dispensations ~ the same goes for our non-political party entities, including our political NGO entities.

Today, no political party is assured another mandate and no Government is assured another term. While voters today laud the Central and several States’ efforts to curb and cure the Coronavirus pandemic, which is their constitutional obligation anyway, there is also much discontent about hunger and homelessness. Which memories will dictate voting decisions? Remember, no vacuum exists in the political and power domains. In Nagaland, as elsewhere, there are too many waiting on the wings. And, today’s spin-doctors would prove to be too inept to sell promises and lies in a post-Coronavirus world. People will take a little time to get their bearings but be sure they will ~ now that they have experienced exactly what, why and how the political class and the Governments have failed them so miserably in matters of life and death. Across the globe leaderships stand exposed ~ ours no less.

So, it is crucial for our political class to change its current mindset, attitudes and styles of interface with the people and stop discriminatory policies and approaches of governance. It must also realize that it can no longer rely on PR exercises through party and Government mouth organs ~ and that even social media platforms are woefully inadequate because those interacting on digital platforms are in the minority and do not normally vote. The post-Coronavirus scenario demands totally new and creative approaches for survival ~ for the people and for the political class. The “change or perish” credo is now more imperative. The post-Coronavirus scenario is likely to see a prioritization of life, survival, development and welfare over party politics and the numbers game. Can our political class adapt to this change? Time will tell. Especially after people’s experience of getting just 5 kgs of rice per household after the lockdown was enforce on March 25 till the time of writing this ~ April 20, 2020. And because after 27 days of the lockdown, we are yet to hear from the Government about stimulus packages for all our farmers, small entrepreneurs and businesses and various other segments of our private sector.

Ours is a very frail economy and unless our Government steps in to revive it, we are looking at massive hunger, joblessness, homelessness, migration, crimes, etc., culminating in social unrest. So far, we have to content ourselves only with the GoI guidelines on stimulus packages for the private sector. And, that is mainly for industrial and commercial activities that do not exist in Nagaland. Besides, how do we know that our state Government will follow the GOI guidelines for the few industrial and commercial activities in Nagaland? The past is definitely no indication of hope. Today our Government is confronted with a huge trust deficit but it can turn around the Coronavirus pandemic to its advantage. It only needs to work on how to do that. And, it will need renewed commitment and dedication with a colossal dose of integrity. But will it? Time will reveal.

As you know, our Doctors’ Associations have submitted a joint representation to our Chief Secretary, Home Commissioner and Director General of Police, to express pain at the assault and torture of Dr Mongshithung Murry, by police personnel at Wokha, on April 17. They have also threatened to cease work if the culprits are not penalized. You will be aware that these doctors were in the process of undergoing training for COVID-19 duties, which means that they would be in the frontline. This, remember, is against the background of our Government’s claim of shortage of doctors. So, although doctors and other health workers under Nagaland’s various Medical Superintendants and Chief Medical Officers are already in the frontline, we still need more doctors and other health workers. Hence the Government had solicited voluntary service of retired doctors, nurses, etc., remember? But what about doctors in our Medical Directorate ~ there are about 40 doctors in the Medial Directorate, I believe. Are they trained and battle-ready for the frontline? If yes, very good. If not, why not? Since all vertical programmes are on hold due to the pandemic and there is nothing urgent in these doctors’ hands, what are they doing in the Directorate? In any case, what more urgent issue can there be now except the pandemic? This requires urgent attention of our Medical Minister. These doctors must be trained and battle-ready. Nagaland deserves this, at the very least.

In the second last paragraph of my column yesterday, I made a spelling error. I meant “abetting”, not “abating”. My apologies.

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