Thursday, March 30, 2023

Shared callousness

More than a year after the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world, we are looking at a much unchanged picture – rising cases, more fatalities and an uncertainty about what is to come. However, the scenario of the pandemic is very different from what it was last year around this time. The biggest difference in the two years is the availability of the vaccine. Much said about this only effective weapon against corona virus, it still remains partly effective, primarily due to the negative publicity surrounding its efficacy and safety. In India, the parallel debut of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin and Serum Institute’s Covishield created a stir, for the former’s skipping of access to Phase 2 trial data. If Covishield (which is being used in Nagaland as in other parts of the country) has a technology and data of Astra-Zeneca and Oxford to boast of, the latter was a solely indigenous entity. Many saw the two vaccines in the same light and thus started the trend of vaccine hesitancy as reports of adverse reactions started to crop up. The Phase-1 of India’s vaccination drive aimed to cover health care workers, and in Nagaland, as per reports this group has been the most difficult to cover and get vaccinated. As this phase ended technically, not even half of the targeted health workers had got the shot, a miniscule of this population doctors. In April 2020, when more and more people were piling up as the fresh cases of infection rose, India was under a strict and stringent lockdown. The fear of the unknown had elicited responses such as resorting to hand hygiene, masking up and social distance. In April 2021, the N95 masks, real and fake, have been mostly replaced by the fashionable and convenient cloth masks. The virus has remained unchanged in its size, but its entry has been made easier with the fanciness of the protection. The new guidelines about masks, every quarter of the year is a challenge that needs to be addressed and that is being ignored conveniently. In fact 2021 will remain a year of masks. Whether they succeed in bringing down the rate of transmission will essentially depend on what is being said to people. Images of leaders without masks will only brew dangerous complacency about the purpose at hand. Although a lockdown is not viable, as government has reiterated over the past month, control over crowding has also been a casualty. Hospital settings are the live examples of this failure. Last month, in a phase wise manner, schools started opening up to students, after more than a year. However, with the detection of Covid-19 cases in some schools in Mokokchung town, schools were shut till May 2 in the town and some neighbouring villages. But with the rising number of cases in the country and here, the state government had now ordered closure of all school for Class 1 to Class 8 across the state till further orders from April 20. And while the state government is not immediately looking at total lockdown of the State, curbs like night curfew, alternate days of markets opening and the odd-even system of vehicular movement is now likely to return, for which the government has given powers to the respective District Tasks Force (DTF) to consider such measures. The government has also directed all DTFs to ensure that everyone strictly observes COVID appropriate behaviours including avoiding crowded places and to encourage all eligible persons to avail COVID-19 vaccination, and to start random screening tests in all high risk settings. In fact, the real game-changer in containing the spread of Covid-19 will be easy and wide availability of testing facilities. With more tests, early detection is a reality and can really help in breaking the chain. However, that would require a more robust contact tracing paraphernalia, which unfortunately has technically fallen low in a year. A year ago, it was possible and realistic to tap the contacts of a known case, isolate them and get them tested before the infection would spread to those who may be at risk. Now, complacency has crept into people about the effects of the virus and the fatigue that has set into the human resource is the biggest challenge for the pandemic. The future would depend on what is done about this shared callousness in our state.