DISTANCE: In their obsession with maintaining social distance only one passenger is allowed to sit on a pair of seats in Kadamba buses

AND a few stray thought for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when the sailors of Goa returned back home to their own ships. For a Saturday following the week when the rapid test kits imported from China proved to be ineffective. For a Saturday following the week when the lockdown was relaxed which caused even more complications. For a Saturday following the week when the international price of crude petroleum fell to zero.


And a few stray thoughts on Goan seafarers finally returning back to their sweethearts and children. Ever since the lockdown was imposed not only in India but in many others parts of the world, Goan seafarers have been stranded. Even in the normal course the life of a seafarers is very lonely because they spend nine months in a year on board the ship they are recruited for skilled and unskilled jobs. They barely get to spend three to four months or even less with their family between voyages. They may make a lot of money and those who become captains and senior officers may become crorepati seafarers. But this is no compensation for not being able to play with your children or spend quality time with the wife and family.
All of us in the country have been bitterly complaining about the lockdown imposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for three weeks. Imagine the plight of a sailor who is lock-downed for nine months in a year. It has been a nightmare for Indian seafarers this year as the lockdown has extended far beyond the normal nine or ten months at sea visiting various seaports. Even sailors employed on Indian passenger cruise ships like our own Goan Angriya’ have not been able to land. In the normal course sailors on theAngriya’ can feel land under their feet for they go home every week. This time they have been waiting for more than a month to feel the red soil of Goa below their feet.


It all started with the three-week lockdown due to which they could neither land in Mumbai or Goa. It became worse when a lockdown was imposed on several parts of Mumbai. Even if they had been able to land in Mumbai they would not have been able to come to Goa because there was no transport available between Mumbai and Goa. Not just the Angriya’ but the seafarers of two other cruise liners, namelyKarnika’ and Marella Discovery’ were stranded on the high seas. Of the threeMarella Discovery’ was an international cruise ship with the captain threatening to sail off to Europe with the Goans sailors on board if they were not given permission to disembark in Goa or Mumbai.
Thanks to the support of the entire seamen community in Goa it was finally agreed that the Goan shippies (more than 200 Goans) on the three cruise liners could get off their ships in Mumbai. But even after landing in Mumbai they could not be allowed to rush back to Goa. They would be in quarantine for 14 days in Mumbai to check if they have any coronavirus symptoms. Once clear they would be driven down to Goa in a car as under the new rules only two persons, driver and passenger, can occupy a four-wheeler.

FLIGHTS are not an alternative as flights have been banned. When they reach Goa the Goan seamen may not rush into the welcoming arms of their wives or girlfriends. They will have to spend another 14 days in quarantine and then only allowed to join the family – but only if they test negative after the quarantine period imposed in Goa.
The plight of foreign tourists stranded in Goa is as bad or worse than that of the stranded Goan seafarers. There are thousands of foreign tourists from the UK, Russia and Europe, stranded in Goa. The Goa government has not even been able to find a suitable hotel where they can be sheltered to save them from the coronavirus epidemic. In the first place the Indian government is insisting the foreign tourists should pay for their stay and food while extending their stay in Goa. Many of the stranded foreign tourists are charter tourists who choose to holiday in Goa because both the price of room and food is affordable.


The Goa government has been trying to persuade the starred hotels which are all shut down to accommodate stranded tourists. Even if the stranded tourists are willing to pay the starred hotels tariffs, they still have a problem. Ironically, the big problem is that of finding enough workers to take care of the needs of the foreign tourists. We understand that all the starred hotels have either sacked or given a long break to their employees. The hotels which are part of a large chain like the Taj Group or Fortune have transferred their senior staff to units in other cities where there is no lockdown.
Curiously enough the biggest problem that the hotels face is recruiting housekeeping staff. Most of the hotels’ housekeeping staff generally employed on a contract basis have quit and either taken up other jobs or gone back to their home towns. Hopefully when the lockdown ends on May 3 airline flights will be permitted and stranded foreign tourists will be able to return to their home countries.
Already thanks to the embassy of home countries like UK and Russia more than half the stranded charter tourists have been sent back to their countries of origin. Where they will probably have to spend a month in quarantine before returning to their homes. This year’s charter season has turned out to be a nightmare for the favourite tourism destination of the British and the Russians.


AND a few stray thoughts on the Indian Council for Medical Research deciding to suspend the rapid test kits for checking coronavirus infection. The Central government had imported large quantities of the rapid test kits from China where the current epidemic originated sometime November-December 2019. The first state in the country which rejected the kits was the Congress-ruled Rajasthan, because the kits were found to be defective. Soon after other Congress-ruled states including Madhya Pradesh and Kerala returned the kits, followed by West Bengal which has been on a confrontation course with the Centre.
The ICMR has been forced to act after even a BJP-ruled state like Madhya Pradesh returned the kits and there were also complains from Chennai about variations in the results of the rapid action kits. It is learnt that the UK which also had imported similar kits from the same Chinese companies also found them defective. The questioned raised over the quality of the rapid action kits have cast doubts about the figures released by the ICMR on a regular bases on tests conducted and percentage of patients proved positive or negative. There are also charges against some non-BJP ruled states manipulating the figures to claim that they have been more efficient in controlling the epidemic. West Bengal has been accused of under playing the number of positive patients and even death toll figures. There have been horror stories of West Bengal burying or cremating dead bodies to project a better image of the state in comparison with the BJP-ruled states.
In Goa the Congress party has accused Health Minister Vishwajit Rane of manipulating figures to claim that Goa has eliminated the coronavirus from the state. Ironically, Professor and Head of Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, Dr Jagdish Kakodkar, who headed the rapid three-day, home-to-home survey, also added to the confusion. While the Health Minister claims that Goa is free of coronavirus, Dr Kakodkar admits that about 15,000 or more people were found to have some respiratory symptoms may or may not be symptoms of coronavirus infection. One hopes that the government will not use the discredited rapid test kits imported from China.


AND a few stray thoughts on the complications caused by the easing of the lockdown. From April 20 the state decided to permit industrial estates to start functioning. Several government offices which had closed were also allowed to resume work on a limited scale. Both in the case of government offices and private units the obsession with maintaining social distance continues. The government has stipulated that only one-third of the normal staff can function at any point of time.
In the case of government offices this means that only one-third Class C and D employees made up of clerks and multipurpose staff can work. Similarly in factories which have been allowed to resume only one-third of the labour can work. The objective is to ensure that there is a distance of at least one meter between employees at work. Both in the private and public sector. This has been carried to absurd lengths. The Kadamba Transport Corporation has started running its buses for the benefit of both the government employees and the private units which have resumed production.
But since even KTC buses have to follow the social distance formula, only one person may occupy a seat meant for two. So much so on a row of seats meant for four or five passengers only two may sit and travel. Even in the case of cars regardless of whether they belong to government officials or private owners, the same principle has to apply. Coming to two-wheelers the stipulation is only one can travel, no pillion riding allowed. In the case of cars besides the driver seat there can be only one other passenger sitting on the back seat. This again is to ensure that there is gap of one meter between those travelling in the vehicle.
The social distance rule does not make any sense. The transmission of the coronavirus is not limited to close physical contact between two people or groups of people. The infection can be spread even by objects used by a coronavirus victim. To give a clearer idea of the chain of transmission, a person tested positive might have not come into contact with the person whose cough or sneezing droplets had fallen. The impression that the infection can spread only if you cough or sneeze on to a person is not true. If droplets of the infected person fall on your mobile phone, you can pick up the infection from the phone. In cases of third party transmission if you have touched any object which has been infected by the person testing positive and you in turn come in close contact with other members of the family without sanitizing yourself, the family can pick up the infection. The particles of an infected sneeze or cough can remain on surfaces like chairs or tables for several hours. Every time you drink coffee from a cup you should find out if it has been sanitized. The stress on washing your hands every time you touch any object or come into physical contact with even a member of an infected family is because the spread of the infection is from human to human.
Unlike in the case of malaria where the infection spreads from an infected person bitten by a mosquito which then goes on a biting spree infecting others. So in the spread of infections like malaria and dengue it is the mosquito which is the vector carrying the infection. In the case of coronavirus it is the human being who is the vector. Lockdowns are undertaking to isolate the person from those who may not have any symptoms of the disease. A lockdown is protection and not punishment. The problem with our battle with coronavirus is that we apply theoretical principles blindly without taking into consideration the practical problems.


AND a last stray thought on the fall in price of crude to below zero. Crude is the primitive or original form in which petroleum is extracted. It is the unrefined form of petrol we use for our bikes and cars and the diesel used by commercial vehicles. As in the case of stocks and shares whose worth is quoted in the stock market the present value or crude petrol is measured by the price commanded by one barrel of crude. Just as the stock market price is called the stock market index there is a similar index for crude prices. This depends on supply and demand. The greater the demand for petrol the higher the price.
Due to the coronavirus infection and lockdowns in many parts of the world, particularly the US, the use of petrol has come down sharply. There is no demand for petrol and diesel because nobody is using their vehicles. When there is a lockdown there is virtually zero demand. If nobody wants to buy petrol it should come as no surprise that the price of crude has come to zero in the US. Unfortunately, we in India do not stand to benefit from the extraordinary drop in the price of crude. This is because we get the bulk of our supplies of crude from the Gulf countries which are not part of the index. But the price of fuel is bound to come down with the decrease in demand.
When I asked my colleagues if the price of petrol has come down they responded that they were using a lesser amount. If everyone uses less petrol the prices should come down as they are dependent on supply and demand.

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