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Jiribam Cluster Spread Among Policemen Should Worry Everybody, Especially Government

The news of a total 28 police personnel posted at the Jiribam Police Station testing positive for Covid 19 infection is not a surprise at all. From the news trickling out, technically speaking, the first spreader is said to be an ASI at the Jiribam Police Station who reportedly had taken his wife and infant for a health check up at a hospital in Silchar. The said ASI was also deputed for duty at the Jiribam Railway Station where people returning back to the state from the rest of the country were embarking before heading to their respective home districts. It is strange that given how long Covid 19 has been in the news, the ASI along with his wife and child did not go for quarantine and testing once they got back. If he had undergone institutional quarantine after and got himself tested, it would have helped zero down the source of his Covid 19 infection.
Of course, he could also have got the Covid 19 infection from his duty at the Railway Station either from not using mask the way they should have been by covering the nose and mouth, changing masks every time they got wet from sweat or saliva and practicing proper disposal of used masks, all of which would place him at considerable risk. Another risk factor would be in case the surface areas at the Railway Station were not being properly disinfected every single day and made worse in a situation where the personnel were not washing their hands with soap and/or using sanitizers. Once he got infected, the above factors along with a lack of physical distancing (security personnel who travel and stay together in close proximity) were all it took to spread the infection to a larger group.
The surprise is in the statement that ‘there is no community transmission’ made by the spokesperson of the Manipur Health Department given to the media. This is an irresponsible statement to make till all contacts of the ASI and each and every contact of the remaining Covid 19 positive police personnel are traced, isolated and tested. This would mean not just their family members but every single person they have been in close proximity with: people at shops they went to, people they travelled with during off duty hours, people they met at the police station when they were on duty, people they flagged down for security checks, people they had a smoke or a drink with, effectively trace every one and keep them in quarantine till they are tested or just trace and test them all. Kerala had a very interesting case of a Covid 19 infected person who refused to co-operate with the authorities who were trying to trace his contacts. The administration got suspicious and traced his call records to see where all he had travelled and it grew into a case where the said person was in the smuggling business. The contact tracking for the Jiribam police personnel might be just as entertaining for all we know!
Going by the World Health Organisation (WHO), community transmission “is evidenced by the inability to relate confirmed cases through chains of transmission for a large number of cases, or by increasing positive tests through sentinel samples (routine systematic testing of respiratory samples from established laboratories). The Jiribam Covid 19 development falls under this ambit for till all the contacts that the ASI made during and while returning from the Silchar hospital visit are traced and tested, it is very much possible that he got the infection from his duty hours at the Jiribam Railway Station.
But technicalities aside, what needs to be stressed again and again is that proper use of masks, disinfecting public places, washing of hands and physical distancing is all that it takes to keep safe. And yet, we see now a growing clamour for the Khwairamband Keithel to be opened up on the grounds that vendors are finding it tough to make a living. The physical structure of the market and the way the vendors sit close to one another will definitely put not just put them at risk but those who come the market as well either as customers or loaders. Hopefully, the State administration will not fall under any pressure: it would do well to refer to the case of the Koyambedu market complex in Tamil Nadu which became a hotspot with over thousand of Covid 19 positive cases being traced to it. Perhaps the state administration could take up a study to find out just how many vendors at the Khwairamband Keithel are finding it difficult to survive without their earnings (many are pensioners) and ensure they are getting economic support. Or perhaps, the many entrepreneurs in the state can do something about ensuring that what the vendors of the Khwairamband Keithel have earlier been selling physically can now be sold online. Anything, but open the markets right now.
To reiterate again, in light of the Jiribam development and the fact that any one of the police personnel who tested positive for Covid 19, could have possibly infected someone who falls out of the ambit of contact tracing right now, thereby running the risk of passing on the infection further, there is an imperative need to stay vigilant. The public on its part have to be mindful about ensuring they stay protected which can easily be done by ensuring the ‘Three C’s”: Closed spaces with poor ventilation; Crowded places with many people (public events, social events from weddings to feasts) and Close contact settings which include close range conversation without wearing masks properly. When all of these ‘C’ factors overlap, the risk of a cluster point for Covid 19 is extremely high. A recent case of this nature took place in Bihar where a software engineer returned from New Delhi for his wedding, the family going ahead with the ceremony despite the groom saying he felt unwell. The wedding took place, attended by over 400 guests and two days later, the groom passed away. Over 200 people attended the funeral. When the test results of the swab samples taken of the groom came in, the result was positive. As of now, a 100 people who attended either the wedding or the funeral or both have tested positive.
The example of the wedding is necessary for Manipur for despite State SoP for Covid 19 specifically mention that wedding ceremonies should not exceed 50 guests, every one is aware of how this is being flouted. Covid 19 is no joke and though it is not something to panic over, it certainly is not something that can be taken lightly. It would do well to note that wedding ceremonies involve the attendance of senior citizens and elderly people who may not fare so well in case they get infected. Prevention is still the best cure. Rather than lay the ground for a situation where there are more cases of Covid 19 on one hand and a lack of testing or medical care on the other (due to the delay in tracing and testing or simply over exhausting the Covid 19 response system), it is far practical to take note and follow the ‘Three C’s”.

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