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Rather Than Seek Publicity from Two Recovered Patients, the Govt Should Prepare by Investing in Health Workers’ Safety

[avatar user=”Kh. Ibomcha” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” link=”file” target=”_blank”]KH. IBOMCHA[/avatar]

Earlier this month, the Manipur government announced a cash reward of Rs 35 lakh for the medical team that successfully treated Manipur’s first COVID-19 patient. The reward, however, prompted widespread criticism of the government, particularly the Chief Minister.

So the first question worth asking is, ‘why is this huge criticism?’  Second, do you think the people of Manipur are not happy when Vimmi Ningombam, the first COVID-19 patient, recovered? Last but not least, do we not have to encourage health workers who are exposed to the deadly virus in order to protect people? If yes, then why all of these criticisms?

Perhaps this piece would appear less impressive to the government of Manipur. For, here I am playing the devil’s advocate. Starting with the debate, I’ve got to ask why the CM is so keen to offering rewards? Are offering rewards more important than scaffolding COVID-19 preparedness or providing full protection to corona fighters or helping the people living in penury?

In the midst of heavy criticism, some ardent partisans of the regime suggested that the CM did so under his discretionary power. This is not, as one can see, a relevant argument in any way. Not relevant because it wasn’t all about questioning the legal or constitutional validity of his act. Rather, it was more about the right response to the COVID-19 challenge and the readiness of our government.

It also sparked a lot of debate and discussion among my circle of close friends. Some of the arguments put forward by some of them are quite convincing in their rationale. They consider the act of our Chief Minister to be contrary to the democratic values for which he was a proponent even before he became involved in politics. They went on to argue that his act was much more similar to how the landlord under the serfdom awarded his serfs.

Even plain folks can see that neither the recipient nor the patients will benefit from the award. It was a waste of money, then. And relevantly many also argued that it was an attempt of the CM to give himself an air of political shrewdness.

But, contrary to his expectations, he received very bad press and his reputation took a battering. On the other hand, health care workers in the current situation need more virus protection equipment than bank notes. This reflects his being less critical and less penetrating, but rather his habit of strutting like a peacock at every opportunity.

As stated earlier, some uncomprehending cohorts of the ruling dispensation have again claimed the reward as something that has been given for extraordinary work in such difficult times. But this approach to the issue is followed by another question, ‘What if a few more cases are found and treated successfully?

Here one may ask whether the state will offer rewards to health care workers every time a positive COVID-19 patient is cured. If the answer is ‘yes,’ the Manipur government’s method of fighting COVID-19 is more like a ‘legal housie game.’ Hence, it is debatable.

In my view, the first thing that the government must do is to ensure health workers are fully protected against the virus.  They must be equipped with high-quality personal protective equipment (PPE), not banknotes. If the state really appreciates the health workers’ selfless work, then protect them.

There is a question that is often asked among medical professionals these days. They ask whether the state government can not see that the medical team that treated Vimi Ningombam is not Manipur’s lone team fighting COVID19. This question, albeit off the point, indicates a lack of

institutional or formal character of the governmental action, which must be an integral part of effective governance.

There are other health care teams working in the field as well, going from village to village, trying to contain the disease. They can get infected anytime as there could be asymptomatic patients among the people they met. Therefore, the government has to think about providing them with basic protective equipment almost without having which they are working now.

So far, we have had two cases of COVID-19 in the state, both of which have now tested negative for the virus. These were not severe cases, but rather very mild. One of the two patients did not even have a fever; it was very mild.  Therefore, it can be said that in the real sense, we have not yet experienced the true COVID-19. As you are aware, both patients did not need a ventilator. It was just that they tested COVID-19 positive, not severe cases.

Often, believe it or not, we hear the government say it has been ready to fight the virus. While some people curiously ask if this is true, others take it as another lie. I’m also going to ask if your hospitals are really ready to deal with 20 serious cases if they do. Does the state have an answer to that? Most likely, no. So, I would like to remind those in the corridors of power that, instead of spending the money to make a reputation, it is better to use the money to prepare for COVID-19.

In fact, the reality is that the health care system will collapse altogether if there come 20 serious cases in the state. If such situations arise, Jumal-Bazi or political rhetoric will not help us. So, first, the state needs to disinfect the lies and verbal diarrhoea from which it is infected.

It is, therefore, time to draw up an objective plan to combat the virus. While doing this, it must be ensured that it takes into account all the likely impacts that might have had on the wider society. In such trying times, what’s the point of blowing one’s own trumpet? It’s all ridiculous and absurd, not a sign of a shrewd statesman, either.

The recent announcement by the Delhi Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, is praiseworthy and relevant. He announced that his government would give Rs 1 crore to the families of the health workers who die while treating the patients. I think we need to take such objective steps, rather than advertising, to gain more reputation.

We also need to empower the people economically to fight the virus. Lockdown is almost synonymous with the cessation of economic activities. So, during this time of COVID-19, it is equally important to ensure that the poor do not go hungry.

Hunger in the state could lead to food riots, making it more difficult and less successful to fight the virus.

If our CM really cared about people’s sufferings, he would have spent the money on their daily essentials. By doing so, he could make people love him, making him and his government more popular among people with a good image.

Furthermore, we can look at the issue from a political economy perspective. This will be even more important than the other approaches discussed above, given that ours is a dependent economy where we live on imported grain. If there are no imports due to the Covid-19, we’re done. So, now is the time to think of a self-sustaining economy, not dependent on other states.

If it takes a long time to contain the disease, our economy is bound to collapse. At that time, there will be no rice, no onion, no potatoes from Bihar or any other Indian state. That’s why we need to produce food to fight the virus.

In order to be economically strong, it is, therefore, necessary to emphasize agricultural work rather than spending on unproductive activities. Basic food such as rice, onion, potatoes and other vegetables must be produced at home.

What we have discussed above can be translated into reality when our farmers are empowered. Now is the time to plough and till the land, so the government needs to think about supplying fuel to the ploughing tractors.

Above all, care must be taken to ensure that all cultivable land is irrigated without which no crop can be grown. Our leaders must, therefore, understand the economic impact of the lockdown on the population and how it relates to the fight against COVID 19.

Why should we celebrate the recovery of the first COVID-19 patient, when the war is not over, ignoring these important tasks? If the virus is reactivated and the first COVID-19 patient is positive, what are we going to do about this? Will the reward money that was offered to the team be recovered?

With such publicity-like acts that do not objectively address the virus, we cannot succeed in combating the pandemic. Rather, it will make us more vulnerable to disease. Here one can remind oneself of the fact that COVID-19 is such a disease that has brought even the powerful nations of Europe to their knees.  So, stop making a mountain out of a mole a hill.

Concluding this writing, I would like to appeal to the state authorities to protect the healthcare workers from the virus so that they can work efficiently and confidently. At the same time, to strengthen the state in the fight against COVID-19 let us make sure that we are not dependent on others for food. Let us pool our resources and energy to this end, and use them for the COVID-preparedness and scaffolding of the economy. Let’s forget, for a while, things like image building exercise during this difficult time; we can do that some other day. Or else, maybe we’re going to meet what we never expected before.

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