As cases in Chandigarh touch 1,117, UT Adviser Manoj Parida talks about the delay in imposing restrictions, why is Chandigarh not testing more and if the city is seeing community transmission.
It has been pointed out from the beginning that the UT has always conducted less testing. Even among other states and UTs, Chandigarh’s testing has been the least. Stanford study also spoke about least reporting. Why is that so?
It is completely baseless that we are conducting less tests. According to the guidelines of the World Health Organisation, 140 tests have to be conducted per 10 lakh people. Since Chandigarh’s population is around 12 lakh, we should be doing around 168 tests. But we are conducting tests even double of it at around 250-300 tests a day. We are going by the WHO and ICMR guidelines. We follow symptomatic people, carry out their contact tracing. Unlike others we did door-to-door screening and will be completing its third round. Testing unnecessarily is of no use.
Other states and UTs have ramped up testing, why hasn’t Chandigarh?
See, some states or UTs are testing more population to show a lesser Covid-19 positivity rate; for example, 1 lakh tested and only 500 test positive. This is of no use. We are following symptomatic people and that helps us to trace the origin and chain of the virus. We are conducting house-to-house screening to find symptomatic people and then tracing their contacts. Now we will begin with antigen testing also.
Since everything is now open, it is hard for a Covid-19 positive patient to recall where they contracted the virus- whether at the workplace, market. With over 1000 cases, does the city not have community spread?
Community spread is a situation where 80 per cent of a particular area has been affected, like if entire Bapu dham would have started getting affected, then it would have been a community transmission. Now we have scattered cases like one or two in sectors or other belts. Even the Government of India doesn’t recognise any kind of community transmission in the country. Community transmission in the city will be when each colony or belt will have 90 per cent cases.
Regarding the point of not knowing from where the virus is contracted, in 90 per cent cases we are successful in tracing contacts and in about 10 per cent cases, we aren’t able to do so. Like a four-day old baby is Covid-19 positive but his father and mother are negative, so there is this mystery about this disease. If we are not successful in 10 per cent, it doesn’t mean that there is community transmission.
There is a narrative that the administration doesn’t listen to the advice of doctors in many decisions implemented for the city. What do you have to say about it?
First of all, I would like to say that we have a War room meeting every day, in which we have health experts- five doctors from PGIMER, Director Health Services and GMCH Director. Whatever decisions we take, are totally in consultation with the medical experts. The narrative that we don’t listen to their advice is a white lie. There is a group of young fellow doctors who have their independent views and have an internal cold war with the senior doctors. We are taking the advice of medical experts who have over 40 years of experience.
Chandigarh kept the night curfew and imposed other restrictions. Why did the need to impose these restrictions arise?
Primarily, all experts were of the view that relaxations should be curbed as cases in the city are increasing. People were feeling that things are back to normal and to tell them that it isn’t normal, we had to impose the restrictions. Moreover, the night curfew doesn’t hurt or impact businesses like shops, industry or other offices. It will just help to keep people who would have come out to party late night or go around the city during night hours inside.
But didn’t it take very long to decide on the restrictions? Almost a month.
No, not at all; it didn’t take us long. Infact, we were experimenting with ideas. We really wanted to have a weekend curfew but for the Tricity. We consulted neighbouring states and then they took around two to three days to say no. Then we had to consult the stakeholders too as we had to do it alone. We consulted market associations and then they raised concerns about rakhshabandhan. We have to ensure some balance. Then we waited for the central government’s Unlock 3 guidelines. An everyday war room doesn’t mean there is a decision every day. Decisions take time as we have to ensure they are in public interest and there is a balance.
Do you think protocol of distancing or wearing masks is being followed in letter and spirit?
In Chandigarh, we have two types of people– senior citizens, medicos, responsible people who understand the gravity of the situation and who are very cautious about the spread. These people stay indoors, and in fact want the city to be clamped down. The other group consists of youngsters in the city who say that three four months is enough, our recovery rate is high, death rate is less, let’s go back to old time now. So, there is a big range between these two group of thoughts. By and large Chandigarh is following the protocol.
As far as compliance is concerned, I go to Sukhna Lake and market, I see 95 per cent compliance of distancing or masks. But in this democratic set up, I can’t go indoors or look into a car to see if there is compliance. The fact is that we have to learn to live with it.
If things deteriorate in Chandigarh, what measures have you thought of?
As of now, we have to see if proper medical facilities are available and we have sufficient facilities. We have 3,000 beds which are almost ten times of the active cases. The government says that those with mild symptoms can be kept in their own house and people in the city have big houses. Things would have been difficult in case of slums and colonies, but now we are just getting scattered cases from different sectors. If there are number of cases from a colony or a slum, only then will we think of making it a containment area. As of now, the situation is controlled and we are just thinking of making micro containment zones.
What is your opinion on imposing a complete lockdown?
As per advice of medical experts, unless there is 15-day total lockdown, it doesn’t help in breaking the chain of the virus. For the last three to four months, the central government has done enough to contain it. You don’t know how long it is going to take now. Suppose we close the entire city for 15 days, what after that? The whole situation will begin again. We shut down the city for 15 days and put all infected people in hospital and disinfect the city. But after 15 days, again 300 people from Delhi and other states will come for work or to meet their relatives and yet again pass on the infection. So, what is the idea of closing the city for 15 days unless the borders are checked? If you are on an island then the 15 day lockdown can work. Whatever decision we took about restrictions and the night curfew, are appropriate at this time.
We have to learn to live with precautions. Given the circumstances, there is a need to balance economic needs and health needs.
What message or advice would you like to give to the people of Chandigarh?
I want to tell them that until a cure or a vaccine for this virus comes, they must not take it lightly and follow distancing and proper hand hygiene. We don’t want to use force of the state to implement it. Chandigarh is a city of responsible people and they should understand the gravity of this virus. They shouldn’t ignore the instructions that we pass. They should rather voluntarily practice distancing and live up to the reputation of City beautiful and become a model city. “City beautiful” has to be “City responsible” also.
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