Rapidly Rising Threat
1. The global statistics of COVID – 19 as of 16 April 17, 2020 reads, total positve cases 21, 82,190, deaths 145,521, recovered 547,295 and still active 1,489,381. The deaths being 6.7% of the total affected cases. If we were to look at the figures of India these stand at total cases 13,430, deaths 448 (3.4%), recovered 1,768 and still active 11, 214. It took roughly 4 months to reach 10 lakhs but only 14 days to reach 20 lakhs, implying that death and total cases will only mount as days pass by unless we do some critical intervention. India has done well until now in managing the outbreak of COVID-19. It is a model that caters best for Indian conditions given its population concentration of weaker sections of the society and sheer geographic size. Many have now started referring to the Indian approach as the Indian model. Till now barring a few incidents such as Anand Vihar and Tablighi Jamat incidents it has been successful in delaying the spread thus giving time to medical institutions to attend to COVID-19 patients and keeping the numbers low given its large population. However, the action which stands out most is the leadership of the PM to keep the public motivated and galvanized to fight the COVID-19. He has led from the front.The Indian Challenge.
2. What is the Future of COVID-19 in India and the Consequent Challenge? The rapid rise of cases in India too in the past few day does not paint a very rosy picture for India. We can see that if we project this growth rate with no major medical intervention, we will double the infections in 4 to 5 days. The situation in a number of cities in India is bad such as Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and even Indore where cases have crossed the 500 mark. It is astonishing that India’s cleanest city is now reeling under severe impact of COVID-19. This means that soon we may move from cluster transmission to community transmission. We have to prevent the COVID-19 outbreak from reaching the community transmission stage or else this epidemic will assume epic proportions. To achieve this we need to take some harsh measures and the law and order machinery for this has to play up. Some steps that can help in this regard are first establishment of several testing centres with adequate screening staff. People should be segregated, isolated and quarantined. Second, moment cases of COVID19 positive are reported they should be designated as hot spots. There is a need to strictly monitor the movement of people in and out of COVID -19 hot spots more rigorously. The hot spots have to be barricaded and movement totally restricted to bare essentials such as delivery of food to the poor, ration delivery at door steps and medical emergencies. Third, establishment of proper quarantine camps with proper medical, administrative and access control mechanism. In China government employees from non-affected areas (districts) were trained quickly in basic medical care and redeployed to manage camps and screening centres. Fourth, banning of all mass gathering and strict population control. Fifth, we need to boost the strength of medics, paramedics and Police force by trained volunteers. Any attack on medics, para medics and essential delivery staff should be dealt under the National Security Act. Sixth ban public air conditioning. Seventh, we need to streamline and enhance the system of delivery of essential services right up to the doorsteps of the public rather than allowing people to move out of their houses to collect items of essential needs. Eighth, we also need awareness staff to reach out to remote and rural areas to educate the rural population to follow strict COVID-19 prevention guidelines. Ex-Service Men Can be the Game Changers
3. Given the pace of the spread of COVID-19 we will have to deploy many people first, for screening cum testing centres. Second, for management of quarantine camps at district, block & village levels in rural areas and ward level camps in cities. Third, for provision of essential services. Fourth, for ensuring social distancing during controlled farming activities. Fifth, to enhance the law and order strength. Where do we get the manpower that can perform these tasks with minimum briefing and training? It will be worth examining the large pool of ex-servicemen which is readily available. This human pool has medics and paramedics for medical facility augmentation, technical personnel such as electricians, communications, engineering, tradesmen, drivers’ combatants, for administration and security of makeshift quarantine camps and combatants for augmentation of police resources to maintain law and order and access control. We must also gainfully harness this manpower at block, tehsil and district levels to spread awareness amongst the rural population on preventive measures especially during farming activities.
4. Some state governments have tapped this potential in not only managing their state administration but also the COVID-19 epidemic. Karnataka has mobilized a team of 45 bicyclists who are providing medicines and essential supplies. UP has also identified around 6592 ex-Army Medical Corps Personnel for deployment in 75 districts of UP. In Andhra Pradesh 300 volunteers are assisting the police in maintaining law and order. Similarly, Punjab has used over 4200 Guardians of Governance right up to the village level from the time Capt. Amrinder Singh took over as CM. They are being used for community surveillance and data collection. Likewise, other states have also started using or planning to use them but is this enough? Can we combat the COVID-19 when cases start increasing daily by over 1000 people? We will fall short of trained manpower as the time passes until we develop a firm line of medical treatment or develop a vaccine. We all know that the development of a vaccine takes a lot of time, by some estimates around 12 to 18 months. Can we not use ESM more aggressively and in large numbers to make our response more effective and minimize the chances of the country moving into community transmission stage?ESM Pool has the Numbers Along With Quality.
5. ESM pool in such scenarios are the best bet to tide over the problem but some may give reasons countering this suggestion because ex-servicemen would be of older age profile and hence may not be suitable for high-risk jobs during the current crisis and susceptible to getting infected by a novel coronavirus. To the naysayers, it may be worth noting that a very large proportion of men in uniform retire very young hence it would be easy to get the numbers from the acceptable risk age group between the ages of 30 to 50. This is also backed by empirical data. Further, to show that ESM can be the best bet in such a pandemic, example of MP has been taken because some of its cities like Indore are facing severe onslaught of COVID-19. As of June 2019 DGR (Director General of Resettlement) figures, 26, 75,223 ex-servicemen are present in the country. Of these MP has over 51000 ex-servicemen. Number of ESMs who have registered for jobs is around 8600. This figure would have only increased since then. Almost 80 % of strength below officer rank retires between the ages of 35 to 48 years which, number comes to approximately over 7000. Even if we were to assume that only 60% of the 7000 are available or volunteer, the numbers would be still be in the range of four thousand. This by any comparison is a huge potential. We are just not tapping it. Therefore, MP can do well to create a temporary Task Force to combat COVID – 19. We can use the ESMs on contractual basis with some honorarium paid out of CM COVID fund. We also must realize that most of the ESMs have extended life cover till the age of 80. This is an added advantage.
6. Given the size of the country and unpredictability of the future trajectory of COVID-19, we may require a huge number of trained and disciplined manpower. Going by sheer guestimate, this could be between two to three lakhs for the entire country to cover both rural and urban areas as cases start mounting. We can easily use ESMs for this purpose. Another added advantage is that they are available in most cases in situ. Employment of ESMs may be the game-changer in defeating COVID-19 and the government would do well to tap this well trained, highly disciplined and aptly qualified resource base at the earliest to win the battle of the current pandemic decisively. Through this column I would also request the people of Indore a city where I have spent a considerable time to adhere to the lockdown, get yourselves tested and not fall prey to misinformation as we have still not developed an effective vaccine or line of medical treatment. Hence social distancing, large scale early testing and effective lockdown remains our best bet. Stay home stay safe.