The government of Tamil Nadu seems inadequately advised on the preventive measures for the COVID-19 outbreak. The government is announcing a number of measures to prevent the pandemic, but confusion on the protocols while treating the patients with symptoms at the hospitals prevails. The government has not been able to release the exact number of people under home and hospital quarantine. The screening at the four international airports also seems to be insufficient as only the passengers with high fever are being considered for testing.
The government has announced closure of theaters and places of mass gatherings in taluks of sixteen districts sharing boundaries with Kerala and Karnataka on Sunday. The schools up to class V are also being closed till March 31.
COVID-19: A NOTIFIED DISEASE
The government has announced the COVID-19 to be a notified disease through the Tamil Nadu Public Health Act and sanctioned Rs 60 crore from the disaster management fund for carrying out the preventive measures. But, the pace at which the activities are carried out needs immediate acceleration. The setting up of isolation and quarantine wards in hospitals has been announced but the efficiency of these remains questionable.
The only positive patient in the state is supposed to get discharged shortly. Meanwhile, the spread of messages across the social media platforms by a few Right-wing groups on traditional cures, spread through poultry and the non-existence of the virus in higher temperatures are adding to the confusion.
‘ENSURE COMPLETE SCREENING OF AIR TRAVELERS’
Dr S Kasi, general secretary of the Doctors Forum for People's Health, while speaking to NewsClick, said, “The initial action of the government seems sufficient. We have seen a sudden increase in cases across the affected countries and we need to take this into consideration while preparing to face the issue. The incubation period extends from 7 to 14 days; so, the air travelers arriving to the state need to be under observation if they have the slightest of the symptoms. At present, the travelers with advanced symptoms alone are kept under observation. This is not advisable and the danger of the people becoming carriers is very high.”
The four international airports are put on alert, but the mechanism adopted for testing and isolating the doubtful people lacks vision.
‘INCREASE NUMBER OF TESTINGS LABS’
The repeated claims of no positive cases in the state are also causing concern, as only people with severe symptoms have been subjected to testing. The insufficient number of testing labs in another issue that requires immediate attention. “The government has set up four testing labs so far, while one more is about to come up. This is not at all sufficient. In the event of an outbreak, the affected people will be left with no option and the government will regret this. South Korea had implemented the model of permitting the private labs to carry out the tests and the government paid for it. They were able to contain the damage to a huge extent by implementing this. This should be followed not only in Tamil Nadu but across the whole country,” opined Dr Kasi.
The government has announced that necessary facilities in government medical colleges and district hospitals are being ensured for treating the affected people. The facilities in the hospitals can be considered sufficient only if there are ventilators available as the individuals may suffer respiratory attacks. The status of availability of such facilities have not been made public so far.
HOME ISOLATION: AN ILL ADVISED TACTIC?
Several reports suggest that people with non-serious symptoms approaching the hospitals are being sent back without even being tested.Some are being asked to remain in home isolation, which is highly impractical and tough to follow. Apart from this, the helpline number announced by the Health Department remains inaccessible.
“In a densely populated state the concept of home isolation doesn't make any sense. The daily follow up and monitoring is required if people are asked to stay back at home. Instead of simply asking people to remain at home will only escalate the problem and won't solve it. At a time when house to house evaluation has to be done, the government seems to have not thought about this. The protective kits for the doctors and the staff in the hospitals, too, should be given priority,” said Dr Kasi.
MASKS BECOME DEARER
The fear of the COVID-19 has made the face masks a dearer commodity in the state. The medical shops are running out of stock and in case of availability, the cost has been raised up to Rs 250. The hoarding of masks by many retail outlets including medical shops has created panic among the people. The neighbouring state of Kerala, on the other hand, has been proactive and jail inmates have been tasked with making masks for public use.
The other preventive measures like spreading awareness and monitoring vehicles and passengers entering the state at the borders are being carried out with better efficiency. With the Assembly in session, all the members are also being tested every day. But, the government and the Health Department need to be more vigilant and proactive in testing and monitoring all the doubtful people to ensure that community spread is averted.
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