COVID-19 TAKES HEAVY TOLL ON BUDGET!

SHATTERED: Even in death there is no peace for the late Manohar Parrikar as his pride and joy, the Atal Sethu bridge, made by the most reputed engineering company Larsen & Toubro, has started cracking.

BY RAJAN NARAYAN

AND a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when Chief Minister Pramod Sawant admitted that there was a huge delay in obtaining the results of the Covid-19 test. For a Saturday following the week when the State Assembly passed a 21,056 crore budget in a noisy single day session. For a Saturday following the week when the students of Goa seem to be unaffected by Covid-19 with SSC students achieving 92.7% -- a new pass record. For a Saturday following the week when the State capital Panaji was swamped by Covid-19. For a Saturday following the week when the government itself admitted that most government schools do not have facilities for online learning. And a few stray thoughts on when it was admitted that there was a huge delay in the release of Covid-19 test results. The chief minister admitted in the Legislative Assembly that reports of almost 6,000 swab sample were still pending. The most affected is the Mapusa lab which caters to the whole of North Goa. On an average over 500 samples are taken up for testing daily and test reports in over 1,500 samples are still awaited. This despite the Peddem-based North Goa District Hospital working around the clock. Swab samples collected at Primary Health Centres and Urban Health Centres in North Goa district are tested at the centre. It also bears the additional burden of checking the samples of those who enter Goa from other states. The worst affected are visitors to Goa whether they are tourists or locals returning to Goa. For instance, in the case of the sailors the delay in receiving test reports means they will have to incur additional cost due to extra days they will have to stay at a Covid-19 hotel or facility. The problems caused by the delay in clearing reports also extends the period of containment or lockdown. In our own backyard a Covid-19 positive case which originated in Cumbarjua let to a large area with a population of over 100 people being placed in a containment zone. A large munkarial joint family with over 15 members went to the urban health centre and got themselves tested immediately. In the normal course the test reports come in a maximum of three days. In this case which occurred on July 22 even by July 27 the test reports had not come. This led to the speculation that the test reports had actually come but being perhaps positive the family was not revealing it. When the test results finally arrived, the family was expecting the barriers will be lifted and their freedom would be restored. But apparently even in cases where the results test positive, if a member of the family has been infected the minimum quarantine period of 14 days would have to be completed. The principle problem is that the number of cases are rising much faster than the available infrastructure can handle. The absurd aspect of the testing procedure is that even the criteria for testing has not been finalized yet. Whenever a positive Covid-19 case is revealed in a particular area all the residents in the vicinity rush forward to get tested. Logically, if there is a positive case in a gated colony like the one at Gera Astoria at Caranzalem for instance, it should be mandatory to test all the other 200 to 300 residents of the complex of block buildings. In the case of the Covid-19 positive case that we were personal witness to while the landlords got themselves tested, the Urban Health Centre did not check the sizeable population of Nepali migrants in the area. Instead of encouraging people to get themselves tested to limit the spread of Covid-19 under Goa government rules, a test is conducted only if the person concerned shows serious symptoms and is recommended for a test by the Urban Health Centre or Primary Health Centre. The alternative is that the individual who wants to be tested will have to pay the fee of2,000 or more at private testing centres. The delay in releasing Covid-19 test reports also disrupt the working of the civic body as in the case of Panjim where 90 garbage collectors and sweepers have been asked to stay home for the last three weeks as a few positive cases were found amongst them.
AND a few stray thoughts on the State finally passing the 21,056 crore budget. The budget was originally tabled on the floor of the house as far back as in February when it was presented by Manohar Parrikar himself despite his precarious heath and he died on March 18, 2019; he had only read out a paragraph of the budget. Due to the lockdowns imposed from March onwards and the rapid rise in Covid-19 cases in Goa the situation had changed. The budget session was supposed to last for three weeks to discuss the various provisions of the same. In any case in view of the huge expenditure incurred in containing Covid-19 and treating Covid-19 patients the budget estimates are no longer valid. Covid-19 is regrettably a very expensive imposition on the State budget. The testing of every patient with symptom of Covid-19 costs on an average2,000. The treatment of a full fledged Covid-19 patient can cost an average of 50,000 to5 lakh. This is primarily because Covid-19 is so highly infectious that even medical personnel attending to Covid-19 patients have to wear totally leak proof personal protection equipment and other protective gear like mask, gloves, etc, and all this can cost 5,000 a day. Personal protective equipment or PPE itself costs1,500 and may be worn only for six hours. Normally the team of medical warriors include the consultant, key resident consultants, two nurses and at least five ward staff. PPE have to be provided to each of the medical team along with other protective things like sanitizers, soaps, etc. None of the things used in the Covid-19 hospital can be reused or recycled. They are all use-and-throw or disposable items.
The infrastructure entailed in testing adds to the cost of Covid-19 management. In addition whenever the State Collectors North and South declare any specific area a containment zone it has to make arrangements for the provision of rations and other necessities to residents within the containment zone. This includes milk and bread for breakfast, packs of vegetables for cooking daily and weekly supply of grains like rice or wheat. The State office holders have only been able to do this because they have been permitted to draw money from the mining rehabilitation fund which had grown to a substantial amount as it had not been used previously.
Under Central government rules all mine owners in the country have to contribute a percentage of their turnover for rehabilitation of those affected by mining in concerned areas. The funds however were not used and remained with the Centre until released as per requirement of each State. Fortunately for Goa the Centre’s prudence in not releasing funds earlier has come as a blessing during Covid-19 times.
The Goa government’s one-day budget session was a farce. No sooner the budget session started at 11.30 am as usual for question hour the Opposition demanded a discussion on Covid-19 parroting Chief Minister Pramod Sawant’s now famous “Bhivpachi Garaz Na” (there is no need to be afraid). This on a day which recorded the single largest spike in Covid-19 cases at 250.
In the wake of the refusal of Speaker Rajesh Patnekar to permit a discussion on Covid-19 Opposition members ignored even the Covid-19 rules of maintaining one meter physical distance and rushed to the well of the house (the space in front of the Speaker in the Legislative Assembly). Speaker Patnekar immediately asked the marshals (Assembly house police) to physically escort the opposition MLAs out of the Assembly hall.
With this Opposition members jumped into their cars and rushed to complain about Covid-19 mismanagement to Governor Satya Pal Malik who appeared to agree with the Opposition. On an earlier occasion the governor had hauled up the CM on mismanagement of Covid-19 scenario. Besides the budget and the supplementary demand bills to continue financing the expenses of the government, Speaker also steamrolled as many as seven bills using brute majority of 27 votes of the BJP to 13 of the Congress.
The only constructive work conducted by the house unanimously was the condolence recorded on the death of prominent personalities including former ministers Suresh Amonkar and Atchut Sinai Usgaonkar, the first Speaker of the Goa Assembly and father of Varsha and Manisha Usgaonkar. The house also condoned the death of Jitendra Deshprabhu, former Congress leader.

SYMPTOMATIC V/S ASYMPTOMATIC

AND a few stray thoughts on some relief both for the government and for asymptomatic patients in urban areas. Let it first be clarified that asymptomatic patients are those who do not display any symptom like high fever and coughing or cold or even test positive. In any case given the fact that there is no space left at the ESI Covid Hospital in Margao and strong resistance from locals to the setting up of Covid-19 care centres in their backyard, the government has decided to allow urban patients to treat themselves at home, an idea technically called home quarantine. What in effect this means is that people who have large houses and resources to pay for doctors and nursing billing for home attendance need not undergo the torture of being forced to stay in a government hospital. Even in the normal course our middle class and rich are reluctant to go anywhere near a government hospital given its poor hygienic and sanitation status.
The conditions at ESI Covid-19546+ Hospital in Margao is even worse since it is littered with discarded PPEs, gloves and masks worn only once for six hours. There are however conditions for availing of the home isolation facility. The concern patient or his family have to make an application to the collector/ deputy collector. The application has to be emailed to the concerned collector, depending on which district the patient stays. Every application also has to be accompanied by an undertaking voluntary self-quarantine with medical guidance online. The concerned email IDs are given in this issue of Goan Observer in Covid-19 Timeline.
If permission is granted to patients to self-isolate at home for 14 days from the day of testing positive for the coronavirus infection, a Health Officer normally ensures that the patient has a room to him/herself with an attached toilet. The toilet that is used by the patients cannot be used by any other members of the residence. This of course rules out the majority of the not only poor but lower middle class who live in 1-bedroom flats with common bathroom-cum-toilet. Under home isolation patients have to be in touch with a caregiver who is considered a link between patient and Health Officer in charge.
Ward representatives are also required to regularly inspect the house to ensure that the patient follows all the conditions laid down. Mercifully in an emergency the duty of shifting the patient to the nearest health facility lies with the State administration. Certain categories of patients like those over 60 years of age or those who are in dialysis are not eligible for home isolation in the case of Covid-19 infection. It is recommended that the patients stay in a Covid-19 care facility.

STUDENT POPULATION

AND a few stray thoughts on how coronavirus situation has not affected the student population of Goa. Both at HSSC and SSC level results of which were announced on Wednesday, July 29, the pass percentage was higher than in the previous year. A record of 92.08% cleared the SSC exam which is marginally higher than pass percentage of 2019. As has been the tradition in Goa the girls did better than the boys, with many of the 9,620 girls who have appeared having 8,973 or 93.37% pass for the exam, whereas in the case of the boys the percentage was only 92%. As many as 118 schools including 35 government run schools secured 100% results for class 10 as against the 98 schools which scored 100% results last year.
It would seem that Covid-19 is good for our students at least as they seem to have done better during Covid-19 times than in normal times! The simpler explanation is that because of the lockdowns students are forced to stay at indoors at home to study, for they could not go out. Moreover since the parents are also at home they could help supervise their children.
While students will no doubt be happy with the results in 12th and 10th standards there is a nightmare in store for them in the coming academic year 2021. Nobody is clear how the shift from classroom teaching to online teaching is going to work out. While students appeared to be happy enough with the idea of studying online from home, now the teachers are also demanding that they should be allowed to teach from home. If there is a total shift from school teaching to online teaching may be the schools including the Cujira school complex can be transformed into a Covid-19 health centre. The government itself has admitted that nearly 40% of the students in government primary and middle schools do not have either laptops or smart phones and nor do they receive the range for online lessons. Among the proposals being considered is a tie-up with Doordarshan so that lessons can be on television.

IRRITATINGLY DIGITAL

AND a last stray thoughts on the irritating fact that everything has become digital. No doubt Generation Next is delighted with the world going digital and 5G coming aboard. These last few months for almost anything and everything one has to catch it online. Involving the downloading this app or that app concerned so that services could be provided. It does not matter if you are required to downloads apps for ordering food or clothes or your next mobile.
But for those who do not have computer or are computer illiterate it becomes a big burden. I just discovered that in Covid-19 times if I want to go to Mumbai or Bangalore even for 24 hours I have to fill an online form and my permit will also be issued online. There seems to be no other option. The assumption that we are a 100% digital country like those in Europe and the United States is totally absurd. Our infrastructure from switching to digital is pathetic. The national internet network run by the State-owned BSNL does not provide range even within 100 meters of its own head office, leave alone in the small villages of Goa. We have to concentrate on creating the infrastructure before insisting people do all transactions digitally.

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