Bracing for second wave of coronavirus
By Sambit Dash
Whether one likes it or not, science has its own curious ways of working. One of which is pandemic occurring in waves. It happened in the case of Spanish Flu of 1918 and it is happening in Covid-19 already in Europe and America and closer home in New Delhi and will perhaps happen in all other places till a vaccine arrives. However, preparedness is the only way through which the impact of Covid-19 can be lessened. There are many things that Odisha Government, or for that matter any other Government, can do to brace for the impact.
While there are many fronts on which the battle is to be fought, as the months-long experience has taught us, there can be two notable interventions. One would be the essential component of testing, the one area that Odisha needs to scale up, and the other being fresh public messaging complemented by effective enforcement to adhere to precautionary methods.
The Covid-19 testing scenario in Odisha has been marred by the fact (and which has been a pan India phenomenon) that there has been an overreliance on Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) which is not correlated to RT-PCR, as ICMR guidelines mandate. During the preceding months, 90 per cent of tests were done through RAT and owing to the false negative reports, it became a matter of concern. RT-PCR machine breakdown and limitation of testing personnel have been cited as reasons for low RT-PCR numbers. Now is perhaps the time to make some fresh recruitment of technicians and set the machines right.
It was recently reported that the Government plans to maintain daily test levels of 50,000. However, the Union Government had in a meeting in the last week of October raised concerns about Odisha Government reducing the number of testing. The reduction in positive cases, as is happening now, and given the large dependence on RAT, makes it imperative for testing models to be introduced in a planned way in major cities of the State.
Testing preparedness can only be complemented by public behavior. Unless proper masking techniques, physical distancing and hand washing techniques are followed by people at large, any
amount of preparedness will fall short of achieving its intended objective. Behavioral change is a complex process and in case of Covid-19, it can be brought about by effective public messaging and enforcement.
A reduction in positive cases as well as decline in mortality rate bring forth a euphoria which lets the guard down. And this is exactly the time such a situation is arising. Fresh messaging, and Odisha Government has been having a well-oiled machinery for it, is essential to remind people of basic precautionary measures. It has to be impressed upon people that the danger lurks like before and that rectifying errors now can probably help dampen the second wave. Educating people about what a second wave is, how it can be more dangerous than the first one, should be prioritised and a Subroto Bagchi model of communication should be planned.
It is imperative that the message is conveyed by political leaders cutting across party lines, and also through scientific community, which would garner trust. For that matter, a competition of sorts, involving political party leaders and workers who are adhering to Covid-19 norms, would make for a good rating-cum-marks card that news channels can initiate.
While messaging is essential, so is enforcement. Notwithstanding the brouhaha about jewellery shops getting crowded during Dhanteras and restrictions on Badabadua Daka during Deepavali, enforcement has to be strict, swift and scientific. Large congregations are to be avoided and there should be no laxity on that front. Be it imposing fines on shops, marriage halls or any group of persons breaking rules, the message has to be sent right now before it is too late and an exponential phase of second wave sets in.
Law enforcement is a tricky business in Covid-19 and the police officers need to coordinate with the public and chart a course of action. Arbitrariness will only erode faith of public, which again would have a negative impact as far as adherence to Covid-19 guidelines is concerned.
Till the vaccination arrives, the second wave is a matter of time. Large swathes of Europe and the US are facing the second wave. The ICU beds in Delhi are saturated and unavailable because of the fresh wave there. With winter season setting in, the situation needs careful planning. A brief lull now has to be used to brace for the second wave of Covid-19. Sadly, there aren’t many choices, yet.
__ The author is Senior Grade Lecturer, Department of Biochemistry, Melaka Manipal Medical College (Manipal Campus). He comments on public policy, healthcare and issues of social interest. He tweets at @sambit_dash