23 May 2020  |   05:06am IST

Don’t let down the guard

On Sunday, Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant announced that the Rajdhani Express would not halt in Goa from the next day onwards as a substantial number of passengers arriving on that train had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Don’t let down the guard

It drew some reaction as he had gone on to state that the Nizamuddin Express would continue as there were not many COVID-19 cases from that train. Both trains orignate from Delhi, that is a Red Zone, as far as the virus is concerned. Yet, on Thursday, the Rajdhani Express did make a halt at Margao and eleven passengers did disembark from the train. The explanation given by railway officials is that the bookings had been accepted prior to the Chief Minister’s statement.

For the moment, the arrival of trains is just one of the many areas where Goa has to be concentrating over the next few weeks in its fight to keep the novel coronavirus from spreading in Goa. From Monday airports across the country will be opened for regular domestic flights. Dabolim airport is one of these that will having landings and takeoffs. As of now, a number of flights are expected to land at Dabolim on a daily basis. With airports open, arrivals into the State, which remains a Green Zone, will now be via road, rail and air. The State doesn’t have travellers who come by sea, except for the cruise tourists who would spend a few hours in the State.  

The opening of airports and railway services was, however, always on the cards. The lockdown could  not last for long weeks. What is important now is the screening of all passengers at the arrival airport or railway station. Besides, there now arises the question over whether air passengers will undergo a 14-day mandatory quarantine, as the Centre is not in favour of this. The Centre is categorical that with all precautions being taken, no COVID-19 positive person will board a flight, and that the government is not in favour of quarantining passengers on short haul flights. This, therefore makes it very important on the screening and testing process in Goa. Does Goa have the manpower and equipment for this?

The medical staff and facilities in Goa may already be stretched. The government has been availing of hotels for the purpose of paid quarantine. Also, the State has just announced that it has increased the number of beds at the COVID-19 hospital to 170. Currently around 45 of these beds are occupied by novel coronavirus patients. With the increase in arriving travellers and the rate of the COVID-19 infection among these, the hospital could easily fill up quickly, given that recovery from the infection is not a quick process. As Dabolim airport prepares to open for commercial travellers, the State also needs to urgently upgrade its facilities for testing and treatment of the novelcoronavirus. 

The standard operating procedure for air travellers takes into account a large number of factors, but Goa cannot let down its guard. Mere testing of the arriving travellers will not suffice, as a person who reports positive has the possibility of having passed on the virus to other travellers during the journey. Contact tracing of the persons, followed by their screening and testing, assumes great importance in such cases, especially since the contacts, though in home quarantine, could have been moving in society. While until today Goa has managed to keep the virus from spreading locally, and has been successful in tracing contacts and quarantining them, the increased volume of persons that will be arriving makes this exercise a lot more burdensome to the authorities. Goa’s response will be visible in the days to come.


Iddhar Udhar