COVID-19 Update: Goa

Failure of leadership in Goa is leading to the second wave of the pandemic not being handled well

Print edition : June 18, 2021

A couple taking an oxygen cylinder for a OVID-19 patient at the Goa Medical College and Hospital on May 12. Photo: Nitin GAWDE/AFP

There are no signs that the number of infections in Goa is decreasing, and the State’s infrastructure, including its health facilities, cannot cope with the pressure of the sudden increase in population that occurred after the 2020 lockdown was lifted.

IN early May, Goa’s COVID-19 crisis exploded. Until then, the tiny coastal State, which has a population of approximately 15 lakh, seemed to have the situation under control. By mid May, the TPR touched an alarming 50 per cent that reduced recently to 35 per cent, but this still places it among the States with the highest positivity rates. According to official data, on May 25, the number of people infected in Goa was 1,49,410. Considering that Goa is the size of a small district in Maharashtra and has villages with a few thousand people, this is a sizeable number of the population.

As per the official Goa government data, there have been a total of 2,499 deaths since the pandemic began. The CFR is 1.7 per cent, which is the same as in Maharashtra, a State with a high death count. Unfortunately, there are no signs that the number of infections in Goa is decreasing. While other States are showing a 90 per cent plus recovery rate, Goa’s hovers around 87 per cent.

A spate of midnight deaths in early May in the COVID-19 ICU at the government-run Goa Medical College and Hospital (GMCH), Bambolim, led to a Goa bench of the Bombay High Court rapping the State government for its negligent attitude. The court was responding to a public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed by a volunteer group in Goa called Covid Care and a band of concerned citizens. The PIL demanded streamlining of oxygen supplies, proper bed distribution and timely testing so that treatment is given before patients become critical. The bench comprising Justices M.S. Sonak and Nitin Sambre categorically told the State administration at the hearing on May 12 that it did not want to hear about any more deaths due to a lack of oxygen.

Also read: Fudging the COVID-19 death count in Varanasi

Following the court’s orders, the government installed a 20,000 litre capacity liquid medical oxygen tank at the GMCH to supply oxygen directly to the wards. This appears to have reduced the number of deaths of COVID-19 patients at the GMCH, which is the largest hospital in Goa. A former GMCH doctor on condition of anonymity said: “The hospital was earlier dependent on oxygen cylinders, a primitive system which should have been addressed at the onset of the pandemic but due to the gross mismanagement of the virus by the State it reached this unfortunate stage.”

Shruti Chaturvedi, who leads Covid Care, said: “They [the government] are completely rattled by the bad press about the condition of Goa and of course the GMCH deaths. But even now, the Pramod Sawant government does not understand the enormity of the problem. We are still getting calls asking for beds. So, we try our best to work with the limited resources. Our worry is the third wave and whether this government is preparing for it?”

Grim scenario

Observers in Goa believe that several factors led to this grim scenario. To begin with after the 2020 lockdown was lifted, Goa saw an influx of tourists and settlers. As tourism is among the main drivers of the State’s economy, the Goan government had no choice but to reopen its beaches, restaurants, night clubs and casinos. Unfortunately, people began blatantly flouting safety protocols, which led to the virus spreading. Many families shifted from big cities in other States to settle in the sunny State as they found the relaxed environment provided them a better quality of life. The State’s infrastructure, including health facilities, could not cope with the pressure of the sudden increase in population.

“Mismanagement is the name of the game with the BJP government,” said Rohan Kaunte, an independent MLA in Goa. “We have a super speciality block at the GMCH ready for opening. For months, we MLAs have been telling the Chief Minister to make it a COVID facility. He does not listen. As an MLA, it is my responsibility to help my constituents. But I am helpless. Every day, we search for beds, provide resources for testing and medicines. The blame lies entirely with an incompetent and irresponsible government. It is at times like this we miss Manohar Parrikar. We don’t need a CM we need a leader, and Parrikar was a leader. In spite of [the fact he was] in the BJP, we trusted him,” Kaunte told Frontline.

Also read: Missteps in India's vaccination policy

In the early days of the pandemic, the State had made it mandatory for people who wanted to come to Goa to have a negative RT-PCR test, which is how the spread of the virus was controlled. The rule was removed when cases began dipping. Kaunte said that in March 2021, when the situation starting spiralling out of control, the borders should have been sealed to red zone States. On May 18, Sawant decided to introduce the negative test rule again. “It is too late. He better have a plan for the third wave.” Meanwhile, the Congress party, which is reasonably strong in Goa, demanded a judicial inquiry into the GMCH deaths and the COVID management in the State. A senior leader said: “The Chief Minister recently had a meeting with his Cabinet and opposition members, but he did not seem interested in constructive suggestions. I fear for our State.”