The only way to defeat COVID-19

Making the most of what we have now will decide our destiny: being in the green or being in the red.

To successfully address COVID-19 pandemic, we must begin to think differently. It seems humanity will take a long time to find a cure for it. However, we cannot continue to misuse our resources and expertise. Making the most of what we have now will decide our destiny: being in the green or being in the red.

It will definitely be understood by all that public support would offer a boost in the fight against COVID-19. It is also more than evident that we can pool resources and carry out collaborative missions more efficiently at the community level. Given this, our experience still teaches us that if we are to destroy the lethal virus, we need a concerted effort. There is, therefore, a need for the communitization of the Covid-19 war, since our greatest strength lies here.

As on May 28, 4 pm, it is officially reported that there were 50 active cases of COVID-19 in the State.  Now the war becomes more real than ever before, requiring an appropriate strategy. According to the state, these cases are not local but imported, referring to returnees from different states outside Manipur.

While the viral testing ability of the state per day is limited to 200, the number of stranded people needed to get tested for the virus is more than 50,000. It can be taken as one of the most critical issues currently facing the administration.  In this case, if all returnees have to be tested, it will take almost eight months to complete the test, putting the state at risk of COVID explosion.

With these challenges, there is a strong need for community engagement in coping with the problem. And it becomes all the more critical with our dwindling resources.  We need to pool our resources, and this involves real collaboration between the state and the people.  Perhaps this is the most crucial task in such difficult times.

However, its significance does not lie only in the result only as is thought. Instead, its importance lies more in ‘the process’ itself. In other words, to let the people know about the virus and the disease- a crucial aspect of communitization-is the essential thing to win the war. Besides, this process will make people more accountable, as they are no longer chronic complainers, but covetous fighters.

Some of us are resistant to the concept of communitization, who claim that our citizens are not trustworthy, as they often go against even simple safety protocols. Their participation could escalate the situation, rather than taming the virus.

One who thinks deep isn’t going to agree with them on this. It will only continue to infantilize the people, a trend that is already underway. It has, in many ways, been responsible for the irresponsibility of our youth expressed in many respects. In quarantine centres, they want the authorities to send people to clean their toilets while they’re busy posting a video of the filthy bathroom to Facebook instead of cleaning it. However, we must not fail to consider the phenomenon as the offshoots of the socio-political climate in which they have existed for a long time, where individuals are alienated from society.

Now, the COVID has given us ample opportunity to unlearn what has already been learned and to replace it with the concept of co-existence, interdependence and collectivity. What we need is only to guide and channel these feelings in an appropriate manner, delegating responsibilities. This act requires massive awareness programs, and it can be done by the state using its educated class, including college lecturers, university professors and scholars, in addition to members of the CSOs. Besides boosting the state’s fighting capacity against the COVID-19, it will reduce its financial burden.

If we make people aware of COVID-19 and assign them roles that they have to play in the fight against the virus, they will certainly act responsibly. Knowledge and responsibility are what makes a man mature. Give them both attributes, they will no longer be chronic complainers, but productive people. Thus, this pandemic is an opportunity to make the citizens responsible persons who are hardly seen in them in the pre-COVID times. And COVID-19 has taught us the need to socialize people based on the concept of collective life, to enable society to cope with the dangers that may occur in the future.

Moreover, communitization can build a new relationship between the state and the people or strengthen the relationship. This will further contribute to the birth of new social relations based on trust and cooperation. So now it is the time for the government to act to enhance this new spirit and encourage them to participate more actively in the war. Even they (the state government) could prepare a white paper on the use of the COVID-Relief Fund and other related COVID funds, including fines collected by the police from the curfew violators. This issue is a rare chance for the government to prove their integrity and fairness, as they have always claimed.

Thus, communitization is definitely more about the proactive role of the people in the well-being of the community to which they belong. This becomes more important when society or the community is stuck in crisis as it calls for a collective response. This is one of the reasons why it is correct to suggest communitization as a tool in the fight against coronavirus.

Now let’s get back to the reality on the ground in Manipur. The size of returnee is too big to handle with the resources currently available. It might even break down the health care system in the state. However, it is our strategy or manner of response that will determine whether we will fail or win the battle. Equally important is where and how they will be quarantined and how the government assigns our people to play their part.

With less than half of the outsiders coming home, we have already had 46 active cases. Fortunately, these cases are not local. Instead, these are cases imported from other states, as mentioned above. So, our primary task now is to make sure these people newly arrived home are appropriately screened, and they do not mingle with the locals before it makes sure that they test negative.

For this purpose, quarantine is a must; everyone must go through quarantine for 14 days before they go home. So the quarantine of 50 thousand people within a limited period is not a small task. Now what the government can think of, or rely on, is community participation in the fight. To this end, the government, through local self-government or local authorities may set up local quarantine management committees. Even village youth clubbed as COVID-fighting volunteers can be used to watch over or look after the centres. About the fund to run such centres, we can mobilize and use local resources. However, the primary concern of the management must be about the category of inmates the centres will quarantine there.

To resolve this new reality unfolding within the state, the government must classify returnees based on their severity. That is why there is a need for strict screening and viral testing for the returnees. We cannot handle a positive case in local quarantine centres. What I’m suggesting here is that the quarantine centre must be classified according to the health status of the returnees.

Therefore, let’s manage to quarantine those who tested negative in locally operated centres. There is a need for awareness programs to ensure that the inmates follow basic safety protocols.  For this end, we can use educated people from the village where the centres locate, or from neighbouring towns or leikais. Even the government can use college lecturers and other government employees to do the job.

On the flip side, we can train our local educated youth to carry out pandemic awareness programmes. It would not take a long time to prepare a few young people for this purpose. In a single day, we can train hundreds of young people and use them the next day.

Some may argue that there is still no indication of community transmission, why is there a need for communitization? The simple response to the question is that we need it to avoid community transmission, which, if ever happened, cannot be managed by the current health care system.  If the principle of ‘prevention is better than cure is correct, ‘communitization is the right approach.

Coming back to the main point and emphasizing the need for careful categorization of returnees and quarantine centres, those who have not yet been tested must be placed in institutionalized quarantine centres until they have been tested or for 14 days (incubation period). All that have tested positive or are COVID-19 patients would need to be referred to hospitals fitted with a COVID care centre.

Based on what we know about the virus so far, some of the COVID-positives do not exhibit any signs. They are risky since these asymptomatic can spread the virus to others. Therefore, asymptomatic and mild cases should be quarantined separately. Of these, there could be patients with life-threatening symptoms that cannot be treated in quarantine centres. They should preferably be taken to a hospital with a COVID treatment facility.

If we are fighting this way, we can reduce the amount of money spent by the state on this. The amount of money thus spared can be used for other essential things like buying ventilators, PPE or other COVID fighting equipment. Often we have seen all the inmates in the government run quarantine centres are complaining against the government, forgetting what they can do for themselves or the state. If the communitization programs started, they would become more responsible.

Finally, we can recall the Marxist tenet ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.  I remember it here because the essence of communism can be found in communitization as both ideas are based on the notion of mutual sharing of human suffering. The above mantra is the only mantra that we can sing while we’re fighting COVID. And if we continue to fight the COVID this way, not only can we tame the virus, the post-COVID society will also be qualitatively different and more progressive than the pre-COVID one.

(The views expressed is personal)

First Published:May 31, 2020, 1:55 p.m.

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