Friday, June 2, 2023

Uneasy choices

After a long while, we have been forced to reacquaint with advisories concerning COVID-19. Hindsight is always an easy place to comment from but for all our pretence of normalcy, the inescapable feeling was that this was always lurking in the shadows ~ the virus never really went away. So then the State’s Health and Family Welfare Department has cited the rising cases of the new variant of COVID-19 (XBB 1.16) and Influenza H3N2 in the country to reiterate the importance of limiting and reducing transmission of Respiratory Tract Infections. It reminded us that inadequate attention to personal hygiene, sneezing and coughing without protection in close proximity of other people, closed door gathering, etc., contribute to increased transmission of viral respiratory pathogens like Influenza A (H1N1, H3N2, etc) including COVID-19. To limit transmission, the Health authorities have suggested adopting respiratory and hand hygiene, early reporting of symptoms to healthcare workers and limiting contact of those people who are suffering from respiratory illness. Even as it requested members of the public to remain vigilant and not to panic, the Department has claimed to have intensified surveillance and kept all Rapid Response Teams on alert. But we also carry one of the harsh lessons taught by the pandemic ~ the successive devastating waves of COVID-19 have shown how inadequately shielded we are from the virus. In the meanwhile, this advisory from the Health Department has arrived at a time when a semblance of normalcy was returning after the peak years of COVID-19 had our State as well as the country in the virus’s grip. Most of the people have ditched the mask, sanitisers ~ once seemingly indispensable items ~ and even vaccinating. There have been few new reported COVID-19 cases (the last reported detection in Nagaland was on February 11, according to Health authorities). Perhaps it is understandable that people will like to loosen up a bit after a prolonged period of ‘COVID fatigue’. But an understandable action or choice doesn’t necessarily mean a correct step. On March 18, it was reported that India’s single-day tally of COVID cases crossed the 800-mark after 126 days (over 4 months). Next day, 1,070 fresh cases were registered across the country, the highest in 4 months. The last time India registered over 1,000 COVID cases was on November 6, 2022. The trend simply goes on to demonstrate that the period of relative lull was not in any way an indication that the pandemic is over. Neither the Government nor the common folks can afford to take the ever-mutating COVID-19 lightly. If we choose to go only by figures then it can be said that there is no need for panic yet in Nagaland. But at the same time, we also cannot let our guards down. While it has become convenient to blame the Government for everything and anything, it will be impossible to prevent another outbreak if we, the common people, throw caution to the wind. That would also be an incredibly selfish act, putting ourselves as well as countless others at heightened risk. The World Health Organisation, in 2019, listed vaccine hesitancy as one of the top 10 threats to global health. A vaccine advisory group to the Organisation identified complacency, inconvenience in accessing vaccines and lack of confidence as the key reasons for poor vaccination. During the peak of the pandemic, the Government authorities collaborated with telecom services and media to make people aware of the need for timely vaccination. It is still important to dispel certain myths and misinformation about the vaccines. The messaging should be that the risks of not getting jabbed far outweigh the risks of getting vaccinated. To add credibility to the message, these public awareness campaigns can involve related experts and medical personnel. We can never forget that without timely vaccination, the current (reported) death toll of nearly 800 people in Nagaland could have gone up by a magnitude. It still may if we get complacent and start ignoring this potentially deadly virus.