Guest column: As Goa battles Covid storm, nobody steering the ship to safety
As many as 75 persons died due to Covid-19 in Goa on Tuesday, May 11, making it the highest single-day death toll for the state in the pandemic so far.
The total death toll caused due to the pandemic now stands at 1,805. The state also recorded as many as 3,124 Covid positive cases on the same day (May 11), taking its total active cases to 32,836.
The positivity rate in the state till a few days ago, was hovering around the 50 per cent mark (every second person was testing positive), the highest in the country. For the smallest state in India, with a population of just 1.5 million people, these are very scary statistics indeed.
Why does Goa find itself in this situation? Gross negligence and mismanagement of the Covid crisis by the state government. The BJP chief minister, Dr Pramod Sawant, the late Parrikar’s blue-eyed-boy, despite being a trained Ayurveda doctor, has displayed extremely poor leadership qualities in the face of the crisis. To make matters worse, both he and the state health minister, Vishwajit Rane, have never been on the same page ever since this pandemic began. They have held contrary views and opinions and have worked at cross purposes, sadly at the cost of human lives.
Sample the latest. Rane made a striking statement to the local media on Tuesday (May 11) that 26 Covid patients had died in the state’s premier medical institution, Goa Medical College (GMC), due to oxygen supply problems.
Instead of rolling up his sleeves and solving the problem, which is his ministry’s biggest challenge, Rane has chosen to take three steps backwards and instead has sheepishly asked the Bombay High Court (Goa bench) to conduct a probe into the matter of poor oxygen supplies at the GMC.
The chief minister on the other hand, in response to the poor oxygen supply situation at GMC simply accused the hospital administration of “mismanagement”, refusing to acknowledge the repeated pleas of the GMC administration of inadequate oxygen supply. To make matters worse, Sawant has directed his ire at the lone company entrusted with the task of supplying oxygen to all state government medical facilities, blaming them for poor support.
With the two worthies mentioned above having maximum executive powers to turn things around, but shrugging their basic responsibilities, the common man in Goa, whether in towns or villages, is at his/her wit’s end.
However, this mismanagement of the Covid crisis in Goa began several months ago. Unknown to many, the Goa government’s financial status is at best precarious. Local media reports have consistently pegged the state’s current debt at a staggering ₹20,000 crore. Not surprisingly, Sawant opened up the tourism gates in October 2020.
The big blunder, however, was that he did not insist on Covid negative certificates from visiting tourists. People in other parts of India welcomed this opportunity to let their hair down, and came in droves. The photographs of tourists cramming the north Goa beaches in the last week of December 2020, was akin to a mini-Kumbh Mela. Cheek by jowl and unmasked, tourists made merry on the beaches with zero policing by the state government.
When the local media repeatedly badgered the chief minister for his continuing reluctance to insist on Covid-negative certificates from tourists, he would simply repeat his favourite line in Konkani, ad-nauseam, “Bhivpachi garaz naa!” (There is no need to be scared!)
This lowering of the guard and non-insistence of a Covid-negative certificate had its obvious repercussions. Several staff members working on the casino boats on the river Mandovi tested positive for Covid. Believe it or not, but the Goa government actually granted permission to a casino to host a boxing tournament featuring India’s leading professional boxer Vijender Singh, complete with spectators, in mid-March this year.
Also, as recently as April this year, local media consistently reported of bars and restaurants in north Goa crammed with tourists sans masks and no Covid SOPs in place, thanks to zero policing from the state government.
To make matters worse, post the first Covid wave, the state government has also been guilty of not working to enhance local oxygen manufacturing facilities, increase hospital beds and recruit additional medical staff, despite several reminders and warnings from the state’s medical establishment.
The result: Goa is facing its biggest health crisis to date and scarily, there does not seem to be anyone in charge.
The author, a former newspaper editor and national-award winning journalist has been living in Goa since 2015. He can be contacted at email@example.com