Coronavirus Crisis: Confusion Galore
The arrangement at IIIT, Mantripukhri which function as the IQC as well as the Screening Centre for those travelling by road is a confusing mess and with the long queues many of those who retuned were forced to wait without even water for a very long time.
There is confusion everywhere in the treatment of the returnees; with many involved not very clear about the process. There are many who came by road from Red Zone, admitted to institutional quarantine centres (IQC) and were tested negative. They were instructed to undergo home quarantine for 14 days subject to certain conditions like informing the District Surveillance team, etc. However, the locality objected that they should stay in the Community Quarantine centre (CQC) for 14 days. Once a person is tested negative by RT-PCR it can be assumed that he or she is free from the virus and for abundant precaution 14 days quarantine was enforced. The problem in the CQC is that there is no uniform system. In some places those who come from the Red Zone were made to stay together, so is the case with Orange or Green Zone and in others all were mixed base on their arrival. A person tested negative is very reluctant to share space with a person yet untested. Government should come out with a clear direction that those tested negative should undergo home quarantine for 14 days which will also reduce pressure on the CQC. The way the CQCs are run, and there is limited option, may lead to spread within the centre or at least among those staying in a room. Some CQC are open to only one sex, while in some it is open to both sexes, and with limited toilet and wash room facilities, the ladies find it extremely uncomfortable. It would have been better if a uniform system was devised which should be followed in all ACs.
The arrangement at IIIT, Mantripukhri which function as the IQC as well as the Screening Centre for those travelling by road is a confusing mess and with the long queues many of those who retuned were forced to wait without even water for a very long time. The system in the District Screening Centres (DSC) is much better, where the processing was faster and in many water and a little eatables were provided. The shifting of the DSC of Imphal West from IIIT, Mantripukhri to Oriental College will hopefully ease some congestion.
In the early part of April, Government sought applications from CSOs and NGOs who were willing to support the fight against Covid-19 and many applied for providing volunteers. It led people to think that they will be involved and the fight against Covid-19 is a united fight, but nothing has been heard about it. Now the main focus is local club providing support at CQCs. For the government, it must have been a head scratching decision to give a primary role to the MLAs in selecting the CQC. The option is to quarantine those who came together or quarantine based on AC. The former is ideal but the local support will be missing while in the latter the risk of spread is higher but community support will be more. Many returnees are critical of the quarantine of people coming from different parts of the country from different zones together; and rightly so. But the option is limited and one wonders why local government representatives were conspicuous by their absence. If they were given responsibility, the unity will be more.
In fact, there seems to be hasty decision without ascertaining the ability of the government to handle. The government alone is not able to handle it and volunteers from the Red Cross, NYK and NSS were utilised at the district levels for various activities and later at various screening centres, etc. But once a few returnees were tested positive the number of volunteers has reduced to a trickle. Volunteers from other organisations, except Red Cross have failed to turn up as their parent objects, which is quite understandable. The standard of the precaution measures are different from AC to AC with somewhere volunteers were provided with PPE. Were the locally made PPE conform to the ISO standard? If not it puts people at risk as they will feel protected and may indulge in risky behaviour, like not sanitising their gloves. Many who wear PPE took off their head gear rendering the whole exercise redundant. Not only drivers ferrying returnees from DSC to CQC; even labourers working at DSCs are demanding it. The teams at Jiribam are at their limit with many trains arriving sometime with very limited rest in between. So is the case of the DSCs. Human are not robots and under pressure they are liable to mistake. The Nodal officers in charge of the various states to handle transportation of returnees did a good job, but the timing was done without reference to our ability to process all returnees. The capacity of the CQCs is also limited. It is good that the government had a rethinking and fresh permit for road transport was suspended and there is going to be a lull in the special trains. Those who could not as yet come are desperately reminding to repatriate them through various means.
In many CQCs, there are no separate washrooms for the inmates and the volunteers which are absolutely required. There is a need to look into this aspect, though in some it was already available or extra provided. The volunteers need to be safe and the principle of safety first need to be adopted or else there will be no volunteers thereby derailing the whole exercise.
There is also a demand for the ouster of the DC, Senapati by various CSOs in Senapati. There is perhaps some misunderstanding with the demand for sealing the Indoor Hall where the 36+3 of the cancer patient team stayed overnight which indicate a lack of understanding of the disease. Containment is done when there are inmates; where there are no inmates the area is sprayed with sodium perchlorite to sanitise it and the Hall has reportedly been sprayed. The claim of no entry hour is also unclear as even now buses arrived at 12.30 am at Imphal! The claim that the team member loitered around the town is absolutely untrue and unbelievable as a person who had travelled for such a long time and after long halt at Dimapur and Mao will loiter around. They reached at 10.30 PM and left at around 6.30 AM the next day; limited time for any other activity except eating dinner and sleeping.
The claim that the DC had violated the norms is debatable but his act is Samaritan in nature, helping the helpless. Do those who want his ouster desire the cancer patient to skip a meal? He and all those who were with him need to be tested and it is reported that all returned negative. It may be realised that out of the 36+ 3, only two were tested positive and even those who travelled together for 5 days, the remaining 37 returned negative. So the chance of infection in the town is absolutely low and the claim of leaving a trial of serious health hazard is ludicrous and there seems more than meet the eye. Perhaps there are people inimical to the DC and they took a chance in targeting the DC at this critical juncture. And the Government acquiesced to the pressure by transferring the DC to Kangpokpi. There are still people egging the CSOs to pressure the State for his suspension. This led one to feel whether the move is to pre-empt the steps taken up by the District Administration to evict encroachers in the headquarters which was kept in hold due to the Covid-19 and of which many are well connected?
The capacity of testing and the number of arrivals just do not match, about 10,000 have returned and the total test conducted including those from within the state is around 2500. Since the two do not match, the time taken for a person to be tested will increase, putting more pressure on the IQCs and CQCs, the latter need to increase the capacity by declaring more such centres. The increase in the testing ability cannot be improved in a short time and even equipments are procured there will be shortage of skilled manpower.
In the CQCs, the volunteers are eager and committed but many lack the requisite skill as training was not properly provided. In some such centres training was held but that is far and in between. And most of the training was conducted by the Red Cross. The activities of the Red Cross was stymied by limited resources and they could not send support team to Jiribam subsequently though a team from Imphal assisted the Jiribam District Administration when the first train from Chennai arrived. Despite claims by various returnees that they were neglected at various points, it needs to understand the logistic nightmare in arranging for such a large number of people coming together in thousands. There will be gaps here and there. Those returnees must also follow the basic etiquette of putting their waste in the buses for which two black plastic bags were provided per vehicle. Even in the DSCs they just throw the soiled mask by the roadside despite the fact that waste bins are readily available. Basic civic sense must be observed or else the returnees will not be welcomed at Jiribam or elsewhere.
In conclusion, there seems a lack of understanding of the ground realities while decisions were taken. There is a need to relook into the whole exercise of bringing in our people from other states and fully involving the community in the exercise is required to bring in better coordination at the ground level. This is not to say that they should not be brought back, but the ability of the system to process them need to be the primary yardstick; or else the CQC may become the breeding ground for the spread of the virus in Manipur.
(The views expressed is personal)