News of a health worker that has tested positive for COVID-19 has resulted in villages across the state of Goa placing themselves in self-imposed shutdowns.
The worker was posted on duty in the port city of Vasco da Gama, which has since become a hotspot for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV-2) – the virus which causes the disease COVID-19. The news of COVID-19 cases in the area soon spread to neighbouring villages, with many others soon following suit and closing down.
“We have to break the chain of the virus,” said Laxman Gauns, a panchayat (council) member from the Keri village. “So we will remain shut for four days. This is not a government directive or anything, but it is our own choice and decision. Those who work outside the village, they should take their own precautions. We cannot take the law into our own hands and they should make their own choice.”
India’s lockdown guidelines were among the most stringent in the world, according to an analysis by the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University. While the lockdown may have averted many thousands of additional cases, it has not been without criticism. The lockdown brought India’s economy to a standstill, exacerbating existing economic stagnation and particularly devastating the lives of many day-labourers and migrant workers.
As thousands of these day-labourers and migrant workers flocked back to their home villages — in what amounted to an exodus from the cities at the beginning of the pandemic — many rural areas are now at risk. Villages, such as those in Goa, could soon receive or have already received some of these migrant workers back into their communities, risking importing the virus.
As reported by Health Issues India recently, the Centre continues to cling to claims that community transmission of COVID-19 is not occurring in India. However, according to a report drafted by epidemiologists, public health practitioners and experts in preventive and social medicine, “community transmission is already well-established across large sections or sub-populations in the country.”
While Goa is among the least-affected states, with cases currently numbering in the low hundreds, the potential for the spread of COVID-19 is never far away. Rural areas are perhaps at most risk of higher mortality rates due to a lack of access to healthcare and inadequate infrastructure. Should vulnerable populations such as the elderly or those with pre-existing conditions in these areas become affected, there are far fewer ventilators and intensive care unit beds to accommodate them. The voluntary lockdown by members of these communities, therefore, is a wise decision that could greatly reduce the risk of COVID-19 taking hold in their villages.