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A Dangerous Invitation to COVID-19

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We, the Government

By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

No COVID–19 cases have been reported in Mussoorie. But that could change.

Our netas and babus have decided to convert Garhwal Terraces, a state-owned hotel, into an isolation centre, if the number of victims of the virus swells uncontrollably. But is Garhwal Terraces the right choice?

Here is an official notification titled COVID-19 Outbreak. Guidelines for the setting up of Isolation Faciity Ward. It has been issued by the National Centre for Disease Control, 22 Sham Nath Marg, Delhi-110054, Directorate General of Health Services, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

“All suspect cases detected in the containment/buffer zone (till a diagnosis is made) will be hospitalized and kept in isolation till such time as they are tested negative.”

This is a clear and unequivocal statement: ALL SUSPECT CASES. Not some or most, but all.
Sadly, however, the choice of the Garhwal Terraces does not show any ‘application of mind’. This state property is located at the half-way point of the Mall. Far from being isolated, it stretches across the busiest part of Mussoorie, roughly equidistant from the Library and Kulri bazaars. Consequently, it is the most likely place from which the virus can escape and infect the most distant corners of our little town.

But can this deadly virus escape so easily?
This disease seems to be a variation, a mutation, of the common cold: the one that gives humans influenza, headaches, a drippy nose, fever, a dry cough and sneezing. In particular, sneezing propels tiny droplets which carry the viruses. Hence the social-distance rule. But these infected droplets can also rest on surfaces where they wait, like invisible predators, to attack their next victim. Viruses are tough. They exist in that twilight zone between living and non-living matter. When the going gets tough they transform into crystals which are virtually indestructible. Then, when these zombie crystals settle on a suitable living host, they force it to produce more viruses like a rebel force staging a coup. This is what happens when we catch a cold from another person. But over countless generations, our bodies have produced defences against cold and influenza viruses. We have not, as yet, produced natural defences against the changed, the mutated, COVID-19 viruses.

The gravest danger is that COVID-19 will rapidly mutate from a droplet-carried virus into an airborne virus. If this happens to anyone kept in the Garhwal Terraces then this disease will spread like wildfire all across Mussoorie.
So, if the State is thinking of exercising its requisitioning powers it should consider some of the other pragmatic suggestions offered by members of its Covid-19 Helpline Group:-

1. The larger the property the easier is it to offer centralised services. It is also most likely that such properties are located outside town which adds to their value as Isolation and Quarantine Centres. The possibility of the spread of infection is appreciably reduced.

2. Uttarakhand is known as Dev Bhoomi and is dotted with ashrams offering a great variety of residential facilities. As organisations dedicated to the spiritual well-being of mankind they should have no hesitation in helping Covid-19 patients to recover.

Finally, the disposal of medical waste remains a problem. Currently medical waste is trenched: buried in the hope that microbes in the soil will recycle them. But plastics are unnatural products and nature has not, as yet, evolved systems to recycle them as fast as they are produced. The result is that things like soiled face masks are dug up from the trenching grounds and scattered over Mussoorie by foraging dogs and birds. This problem will increase with the enhanced use of plastics as protective wear against Covid-19. Civic authorities must seriously think of installing oil or gas-fired, or solar-powered, incinerators.

We shall highlight the problem of inadequate home-care for the ailing in Mussoorie, in a future column. And, also, the deplorable absence of trained para-medics.

A battle is won by tactics like the inspired 9-for-9 unifying move. This has become a band-aid to staunch the bleeding from deeply divisive wounds. It has bought much-needed time to provide carefully planned, long-duration, strategies to unify our troubled nation. Such deeply imbedded strategies, alone, can win the war.