Updated on 17 Nov 2021, 8:15 am
Representational Image (Photo: Pixabay)
Since October, 2021 the second wave of COVID-19 is slowly tapering, not smoothly but in jerks and by the first week of November, the Positivity rate (PR) stood at 3.5. In the second week it stood at 3.0 though during the fortnight the daily PR ranges from 2.3 to 4.5. Many are worried that the festive and marriage season and the election campaign can be the driver for an increase in PR. Ningol Chakouba which was observed with fanfare by politicians and social organisations inviting large numbers of women who have to spend unmasked close to each other for not less than 30 minutes can be spreader events. Six feet distance is meant for those who properly don masks. It should have been a family affair as done in the earlier days but with the election round the corner politicians led the way. In fact in a social media group, when photos and videos of the crowd partaking food were uploaded the immediate reaction from all was what will be the consequences if there is even one positive case? Electioneering can be the main driver for the continuation of the second wave and perhaps there may be overlap between the second and third wave, if the latter comes. Due to availability of home testing kits in the market but despite all tests whether done at home or in accredited labs must be entered in CoWin; hardly anybody who did home testing enters in CoWin and thus the reports available are incomplete.
Feasting together puts great risk as one has to be unmasked for not less than half an hour, while in marriages well make up ladies irrespective of age refuse to don mask as it will cover their efforts and thus can be spreading events.
This writer had flagged in his column that schools are open against government instructions in the hills without proper protocols that can lead to outbreaks. This had happened in Churachandpur where 16 inmates of an orphan home were reported to be positive after they attended classes. Others may have been infected and therefore follow up measures are called for. CMO visiting the area is insufficient, the school management must be taken to task and penalised as per the law, so that copy cats are discouraged. One may agree or not agree with the guidelines of the government and if one feels uncomfortable with the guidelines he may move for modifications with reasons, but if these were not followed and tread the path of laissez faire, there will be anarchy.
On November 9 orders were issued for re-opening of classes of schools, colleges and other educational institutions. This was the demand from many sections of the society else there will be a missed generation. However, the notice was so short, that most of the institutions were unprepared and no institutions could start the physical classes from 10th. Only classes IX and above were allowed to reopen and unfortunately those which need physical classes the most were still denied. The younger group which needs psycho-social skills that can only be learnt through physical classes is still not able to do so. This indicates the over emphasis on marks in public examinations. Re-opening physical classes will be a huge challenge, especially for those where the number of students in each class is large. Attendance is not mandatory and it was indicated that attendance will be subject to parental consent. This is a bit confusing that those above 18 need no parental consent and should be only for those below this age. A clarification in this regard is perhaps due.
The blended mode of classes will continue where both off-line and on-line classes will be conducted and whether the teachers will be able to cope with the system needs a proper analysis. Physical classes will be limited to three-four hours for both modes as per the order but without a proper system put in place for each school and class, it will be difficult to limit to the prescribed duration. Wearing of mask is made mandatory as this measure provides the maximum protection. However, the mask must be of good quality and for three layer medical masks it should be changed every 6-8 hours; in other words daily. Poor quality mask will put self and others at risk. How many of the students can abide by this instruction is a moot question. Hand hygiene can be easily enforced. The order allows those unvaccinated teachers and staff to attend classes though vaccination must be encouraged. In India, vaccination is not mandatory but elective. However, it would be better if only vaccinated teachers and staff and where eligible students also, are allowed in public places like educational institutions in the larger interest of public health. The only condition for teachers and staff unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated should get tested through RT-PCR every 20 days. This condition is not put in place for the students; as if transmission is one way from teachers and staff to students alone and not vice versa. The chances of students being the spreader is high as their population in the school is more and they due to their nature tends to violate the protocol more. Breakthrough infection is becoming common and no longer rare and it has been reported that those infected after fully vaccinated can spread the infection like the unvaccinated and hence testing should be carried out for all irrespective of the vaccination status. The advantage of vaccination is that even if infected the prognosis is better with limited hospitalisation and death.
Co-curricular activities like sporting events are banned and there is as yet no SoP for sporting events but tournaments, matches etc are being held regularly and thus questions were raised why restrict in educational institutions while it is open elsewhere.
Even though the District Administration has been tasked to do the monitoring, not much can be expected as they are over stretched and even in districts where physical classes are on for quite some time on the sly, no action has been taken for violation of the protocol. Their duty will become more hectic with the approaching election. It would be futile to think that the teams will be able to monitor effectively that the classes are conducted as per the guidelines. Exemplary penalties for those who violate the guidelines must be enforced irrespective of their clout so that violating the guidelines is not an option.
CM while launching vehicles for home vaccination appealed to complete the vaccination before the end of the year. Wishful thinking as a three months gap is required between the second dose and the first dose and now it is the middle of November. The revised target is 23.41 lakh against the original target of 19.37 lakh. Due to the revised target, the achievement of Jiribam by November 14 has gone down to 69.82 per cent for first dose and 49.74 per cent for second dose. As per the author’s calculation the figures are 69.88 and 50.17 respectively. Now in respect of first dose, Imphal West leads with 70.45 per cent, while Jiribam leads in the administration of second dose (As per the author’s calculation Kakching leads the first dose administration with 70.87 per cent achievement). The worst performing districts are now Kangpokpi with 17.50 per cent (first dose) and 9.64 per cent (second dose) followed by Ukhrul with 20.50 per cent (first dose) and 14.71 per cent (second dose). The overall achievement of the state is 53.86 per cent (first dose) and 33.98 per cent (second dose) while as per the author’s calculation it is 53.90 and 34.08 respectively. This was achieved in 11 months and to expect full coverage in one and half month is mere daydreaming but rather a fresh target date with better methodologies put in place. It is hoped that the mobile vaccination teams may provide some impetus to the progress but not much can be expected as there is bereft of fresh ideas to intensify the vaccination drive. Sufficient funds ought to be provided to the teams to enable them to cater to those who sought vaccination. One way forward may be to provide disincentives to those who refuse vaccination. Attending classes or offices can be one of them. Other measures can also be thought of. Despite chances of opposition, any activity which involves crowding like MNREGA, etc may be denied to those not vaccinated as they have a much higher chance of getting and spreading the infection.
Fresh challenges have been thrown up in the fight against the pandemic with the opening up of various activities and the chances of increased PR are expected after the festive and marriage season and the election campaign. One major issue is the man made revised target, which seems divorced from reality. Government needs to consider the various options to intensify the vaccination progress while also making efforts to curb crowding and violation of the protocols.
(The views expressed are personal)
The author is a former bureaucrat, Imphal, Manipur