RESTRAIN: Though lockdown has not been imposed, several buildings including Madhuban in St Inez, Models-I in Caranzalem and Dattaprasad Apartment in Bhatlem, and some residences in Canacona have been declared as mini-containment zones.
BY RAJAN NARAYAN
AND a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when the Central Empowered Committee (CEC), set up by Supreme Court, recommended that there was no need for double tracking of the South Western Railway. For a Saturday following the week when the 18-plus, who might be waiting anxiously for their covid vaccine, may have to wait. For a Saturday following the week when the entire world is agitated over the huge spike in the new double mutant virus variant (B1617, it seems all variants have multiple mutations but this one is the worst so far) cases in India.
For a Saturday following the week when the Central Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan directed that 150 districts in the country with over 15% positivity rate may have to go under lockdown. For a Saturday following the week when there was no response at all to Goa government advertisements for recruiting a hundred new doctors in the Health Services. For a Saturday following the week when Dr Oscar Rebello appealed to all Goans to postpone their social functions, including weddings, birthday and other partying for at least two weeks.
NO DOUBLE TRACKING
AND a few stray thoughts on the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) of experts appointed by the Supreme Court (SC) rejecting the coal lobby demand for double tracking the South Western Railway (SWR). It may be recalled that both Union Minister for Transport Nitin Gadkari and State Environment Minister Nilesh Cabral were very keen on double tracking the SWR to meet the coal requirements of the Jindal and Adani units in Karnataka. Both of them insisted that the present capacity of the single track was not adequate for the quantity of coal that was being imported by Gautam Adani from his coal concessions in Australia.
Indeed, public hearings were held at the Kala Academy and the Ravindra Bhavan, where both the people inside the hall and the thousands outside on the pavements strongly objected to the double tracking for increased coal transportation through Goa. The double tracking would involve not only massive cutting down of trees but even the demolition of ancestral homes in Cansaulim and Majorda. The double tracking in fact passes through the ancestral home of former Chief Minister of Goa, the late Dr Proto Barbosa. However, the CEC killed in one stroke the demand for double tracking of the SWR by pointing out that even the existing single track is not being used more than 50% of its capacity. So there was no question of double tracking the SWR.
The CEC also rejected the proposal of the Power Minister Nilesh Cabral, for setting up of 400 megawatt sub-station in the middle of the protected Mollem forests. This would require the laughter of over a million trees in the Mahavir wildlife sanctuary in Mollem. The CEC pointed out that the clearance of forests would affect the bio-diversity of both Goa and Karnataka, and asked the Power Ministry to draw the new overhead high tension lines parallel to the existing power lines.
Most Goans were not even aware that there were already power lines passing through Mollem sanctuary and the government did not even mention augmenting these as a better option. Unfortunately, these are only CEC recommendations. It is to be hoped that the Supreme Court will accept the recommendations. The only project cleared with major modification by the CEC is the expansion of the national highways running through Goa.
SERUM HAS NO STOCKS!
AND a few stray thoughts on Serum India not being able to supply the five lakh vaccines which are needed for implementing the vaccination program for the 18-44 age groups. The Serum Institute has told the government of Goa that it cannot increase its capacity because it was yet to get the raw materials needed from the United States.
Moreover, the first priority of the Serum Institute is to meet the requirements of the Central government. The Serum Institute is not admitting that the delay is also because it is exporting the vaccines in huge quantities to Europe and UK where it gets a higher price. Though there are reservations about the AstraZeneca vaccine, as it is called in Europe, some countries are still insisting on delivery of the vaccines that they have paid for.
A very small percentage of the Covishield vaccine has been linked to blood clots in senior citizens. There are countries in Europe which are either selling the extra quotas of vaccine to other countries or gifting them to poor countries like Nigeria which cannot afford to buy vaccines for mass free vaccination.
Chief Minister Pramod Sawant claimed that the Serum Institute had promised to supply five lakh vaccines to Goa. However it didn’t indicate any particular date by which the vaccine will be made available. In the meanwhile, vaccination of those who are over 45 years and senior citizens continues. The Urban Health Centre in Panaji has been reporting a large increase in the number of senior citizens coming in for the vaccination. Obviously, the huge hike in the number of deaths has scared senior citizens who had been avoiding the vaccines earlier. The positive aspect of the vaccination drive in Goa is that there has not been a single case of death of any Goan after taking both doses.
However, there has been a report of a 71-year-old woman from Salvador Do Mundo in the DHS bulletin, reporting that she died after testing positive despite being vaccinated on April 14.
AND a few stray thoughts on the entire world being extremely worried about the serious and worsening covid situation in India. During the first wave, India was doing much better than the US and UK because of the very strict lockdown for almost a year. But the lockdown had serious side effects such as large scale unemployment of the contract labour employed in major cities. Many of us will still recall the pictures of migrant labour with their families walking back to their homes covering distances of over a thousand kilometres. This was despite the central government organising special ghar wapasi trains for migrants who wanted to return to the home state. This were not sufficient because of numbers rendered and homeless was huge. During the first wave, India was in fact exporting Covishield to the US and the UK, being the largest manufacturer of vaccines in the world. But this time around, while the UK and the US have brought down the positivity rate and the fatalities drastically, it is India which now leads the number of positive covid-19 cases. The double mutant coronavirus is far more virulent and spreads much faster than the virus which hit India in the first wave. As we have seen for ourselves in Goa. Even more worrying is the fact that the double mutant virus is affecting young people in large numbers.
Within the last one month the number of active cases in Goa have gone up to 20,000 pushing the positivity rate to 38%. This means that almost 40% of the population which has been tested are infected with the virus. In the last 24 hours the deaths from covid at a national level has crossed 2 lakhs and the number of fresh positive cases are going up by an average of 4 lakhs every day. India is only next to Brazil which has witnessed four lakh deaths while Mexico has recorded over two lakh deaths which is equivalent to that of India. The mutant virus is spreading very rapidly in Kerala (32,819), West Bengal (16,403), Tamil Nadu (15,830), Gujarat (14,352) and Hariyana (11,931). Covid is a global infection. It is not limited to Goa or India. At a time when the world has shrunk and you can fly to any part of the world, the double mutant vaccine can set off a new fresh deadly wave even in the US and UK. Which is why almost every country and continent in the world has isolated India and banned flights from India. Among the countries which have closed their doors to India are Canada, UK, Germany, Italy, UAE, Kuwait, Bangladesh, Oman, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Australia and Belgium. The only countries which still permit flight from India are France, Maldives, Bahrain, Qatar, Russia and Seychelles. But even to travel to these countries, you have to have a negative PCR report conducted within 48 hours before departure. IN France even if you have a negative certificate you have to undergo a ten day quarantine. The situation now is the reverse of what happened in the first phase.
When India was offering help to even US and UK and the neighbouring countries. Now the whole world is offering help to India whether it is raw material for vaccines or oxygen cylinders or ventilators or even man power to handle the worsening crises. They are not doing so due to charity because there are more than ten crore Indians living in various parts of the world who can transmit the new mutant when they go back after their holidays in India.
MBBS DOCTORS DECLINE
AND a few stray thoughts on a total lack of response to an advertisement released by the Director of Health Services (DHS) for recruiting over 100 doctors to deal with the covid-19 situation. Dr Edwin Dias, who first set up the covid facility in Goa during the first wave has posted in Facebook detailing the acute shortage of doctors to deal with covid infected patients. He reveals that there are only two doctors for a covid ward of 50 patients, along with two nurses and a couple of attendants.
The shortage of beds even in private corporate is so bad that patients are preparing to lie down on the hospital floors. Director of Health Services Dr Jose D’Sa has revealed that not one MBBS doctor has responded to the DHS post advertising for medical officers. With the number of admissions to the GMC exceeding 300 in the 550-bed hospital, other wards too are being taken over for the rush in covid patients. Worst still non-covid patients such as those recovering from neuro-surgery are getting infected and dying of covid.
There have been a lot of applications from homeopath and Ayurveda doctors but they are not qualified to be medical officers Health Services. Nurses and ward boys are available but not MBBS doctors. Even though a 100 doctors passed out of the GMC every year, the majority of them either opted for doing their post-graduation out of Goa, or set up their own private practice.
No MBBS doctor in any case wants to be posted to the covid ward. Health Minister Vishwajit Rane is planning to recruit AYUSH doctors who will work under the supervision of MBBS doctors. The GMC wants to add another 250 beds for covid patients in the super speciality block ready but does not have the manpower. Over half of the GMC staff has been posted at the South Goa District Hospital which has more than 400 beds.
Despite the claims of the Goa Chapter of the India Medical Association (IMA), the Health Minister Vishwajit Rane claims that they have not got much co-operation from private doctors. They are not willing to work full time and only about 500 doctors out of a total of 5,000 doctors have agreed to devote at least two hours a day visiting the covid wards of then hospital. No private doctor is willing to attend to patients who have opted for home isolation. However 250 beds in private corporate hospitals have been made available to covid patients.
Meanwhile Vishwajit Rane has revealed that the daily requirements of Goa oxygen is one crore litres, which is likely to increase by three times over. In view of rising covid cases entry to the Panaji market has been restricted with only one gate kept open for shoppers.
DR OSCAR’S DESPERATE PLEA
AND a last stray thought on the passionate heart-rending appeal of Dr Oscar Rebello who has been attending to covid patients for over a year. Dr Oscar Rebello is the backbone of private co-operate hospitals which are treating covid patients. Dr Rebello, convenor of the Goa Bachao Abhiyan, is a straight talking doctor who doesn’t mince words. His video on Facebook sees him pleading with Goans to at least postpone social gatherings like marriages, birthdays and club get-togethers.
The good doctor stresses that the situation is very critical. Goa does not have sufficient medical staff to deal with the growing number of covid positive cases. It is imperative to break the chain of infection. Dr Rebello is not asking for a severe lockdown like the one imposed after the first covid wave in 2020. But surely people can be more responsible!
I myself have found people posting photographs and details of their marriage receptions and birthday parties on Facebook. There were pictures of Tourism Minister Babu Ajgaonkar dancing away at a family function without wearing a mask, not to talk about maintaining physical distancing.
The India Football League owned by Neeta Ambani is continuing with the Asian Football League in a tournament being held in Goa exclusively for the first time in Goan stadiums. Which means all the matches in the Asian league which includes the major clubs of Asia are being held in Goa. However, Goa’s media people should follow the example of the `Indian Express’ staff which is boycotting coverage of the IPL cricket tournament.