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'None of the politicians mask'

By VAIHAYASI PANDE DANIEL
Last updated on: April 09, 2021 09:37 IST
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'In spite of all the sermonising from the political class, when they come in public, the ministers don't follow their own rules.'
'They don't mask.'
'If you look at the West Bengal election campaigning, if you look at the Assam election campaigning or if you look at Kerala election campaigning, they are not setting an example.'

IMAGE: Bharatiya Janata Party leader Amit Anilchandra Shah campaigns for Suvendu Adhikari, the BJP's nominee from Nandigram. Photograph: @AmitShah/Twitter
 

Kerala, which has been a pioneer in its relatively more efficient handling of the COVID-19 crisis, after its first real peak in September and October 2020, saw a sudden spurt in cases in January and February 2021.

That turned out to be a fleeting rise, a short-lived situation. And not a second peak, like many parts of the rest of India are valiantly struggling with right now.

After the January swell, within a few weeks the situation came under control and pandemic cases dropped in the state.

But will the scenario in Kerala change in the next few days?

Should the state brace itself for a fresh and overpowering surge of COVID-19 cases?

Dr Anup Warrier, consultant for infectious diseases at the Aster Medcity Hospital, Kochi, who has been untiringly warring with SARS-CoV-2 since January 2020, predicts that a second peak or second wave is now imminent in Kerala, especially since the election season has ended and precautions are at an all-time low.

Post the election run, though, Dr Warrier, wonders what the second peak will bring.

Dr Warrier tells Vaihayasi Pande Daniel/Rediff.com it is about time that politicians across the country set a better example while campaigning.

How does the COVID-19 situation in Kerala look today? Kerala had some bad days recently.

Yes December, January. Now the numbers have come down again here.

The situation is just coming under control after this recent smaller surge, but will election campaign affect it?

Right now, the number of cases is still low. The test positivity which had peaked up to 11 to 12 per cent in early January, has come down to around 3 per cent now.

The elections can push it up right?

It can, it can.

That we will only know by mid-April. By April 15 we will see the impact of the campaigning.

IMAGE: Bharatiya Janata Party leader Nirmala Sitharaman addresses an election rally at Kottarakkara in Kollam, Kerala, April 4, 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo

What can be done to handle it? Are things being done to prevent a rise?

Actually, not much. To tell you honestly, nothing much has been done.

The rules and regulations regarding public gathering, people coming together -- there was nothing in place.

You could see a lot of crowds everywhere, during the election campaigning.

Nothing has been done, on the ground, concretely, to prevent any spread.

And if you looked at the news on television, none of the politicians are using masks.

In the election campaigns, when they went to give their nominations, in their small party offices, whenever they come on camera, none of the politicians, none of the people around them, none of them are wearing masks.

Kerala has always been ahead of other states in management of COVID-19. So why this?

No difference. No difference at all.

I travelled to Bangalore recently and the only difference I saw, between Bangalore and Kerala, is that in Bangalore many of them don't bother carrying a mask. It is not there on their face at all!

In Kerala, most people wear a mask around their chin, they keep it around their chin, but it is useless!

In Bangalore, actually, many of them have done away with the mask.

Would you call this recent case rise -- that took place from the end of December to January -- a second peak?

Not really. As I told you, the numbers were much, much less. It was just a small spurt in between and it died away. The peak lasted barely two to three weeks.

But post-election there might be a peak right?

Post-election we are expecting a peak, mid-April.

COVID-19 is going to be with us for a while still, in spite of vaccination. When it comes to 'normalising life', what measures, have you seen in Kerala, which work well?

(After the initial success) of the tracing programme, there is nothing different happening. It's exactly the same as anywhere else. I don't think we are doing anything different, including masking.

Our malls are crowded, our shops are crowded, our markets are crowded, our election campaigning is crowded. I don't think we are doing anything different.

Life is back to normal other than say 60 per cent occupancy in cinema theatres. And schools have still not reopened.

Leave aside schools and cinema theatres, the rest of the things are back to normal.

Even gymnasiums they have given permission to open.

IMAGE: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi at a roadshow in Kozhikode, April 0, 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo

As an infectious disease expert, speaking for the whole of India, what needs to be done to make the masking more effective?

Nothing. Helmets, seatbelts -- they couldn't implement any of these things. I don't think fines and punishments are sustainable across India.

I really don't know whether there is any effective intervention.

One thing which strikes my mind: Each time I watch TV, in spite of all the sermonising from the political class, when they come in public, the ministers and the government officials don't follow their own rules. None of them mask.

If you look at the West Bengal election campaigning, if you look at the Assam election campaigning or if you look at Kerala election campaigning, they are not setting an example.

What is the point in coming and preaching? Who will listen to them? When they themselves are roaming around like that and everybody all over India is seeing that.

Let the political group, everybody who comes on people's television screens, when they go campaigning or to party offices, anywhere where they are in public view, let them ensure that they use masks properly. This would be a big message.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/ Rediff.com

 

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The War Against Coronavirus