Cluster transmission? Spotlight on quarantine centres

With almost 500 positive cases, Manipur is definitely not a Green Zone.  With the two biggest hospitals namely; RIMS and JNIMS unable to cope with the rapid surge in the COVID-19 positive cases, an exclusive COVID Care Centre has been opened at UNACCO School, Meitram, Imphal West. The gravity of the situation can be gauged from the fact that the Health Department has already asked Deputy Commissioners to identify areas/sites where exclusive COVID care centres can be opened at district level. Now the common apprehension of the people and the Government has become a scary reality. As demanded by the situation, the State has already spent almost three months under complete and partial lockdown. Even though the lockdown has been relaxed to a considerable extent, life is still quite far from being normal. In fact, every aspect of life has been either thrown out of gear or brought to a complete halt. Lockdown means confinement of all the population within their houses which implies complete curtailment of one’s freedom of movement. With neither vaccine nor drugs available to treat COVID-19, the only and best way to protect oneself from the virus is prevention.  In fact, the adage ‘Prevention is better than cure’ has been always true and it is truest in the present context of novel coronavirus. Lockdown is basically about minimising social contact and interaction to the lowest level. Certainly all possible preventive and precautionary measures should be taken up at individual as well as community level. Talking about preventive measures taken up by the State Government, it appears there have been certain lapses, particularly inside institutional and community quarantine centres.
It was not isolated cases but groups of people staying together in quarantine centres which pushed the total tally of positive cases to such an alarming figure. Such spread of the highly contagious virus among inmates of quarantine centres can best be described as cluster transmission. Video clips of quarantine centre inmates singing and dancing together have already went viral in social media which means all the SOPs and guidelines were thrown to the wind.  Now the Health Department has went on record saying they suspect COVID-19 transmission within quarantine centres. The department has already launched an investigation. It appears damage has been already done, it’s time to minimise its effects. The department needs to wrap up its investigation as quickly as possible and do the needful on war-footing based on the findings of the investigation. Violation of social distancing norms and prescribed SOP is nothing but utter irresponsibility on the part of the inmates. But the Government cannot afford any laxity in the battle against COVID-19. The Government may even consider about authorising dedicated volunteers and officials to enforce the prescribed SOP and guidelines in the strictest sense of their terms. It might be necessary to send mischievous, unruly and irresponsible inmates to jail but it is definitely not the best option. All the concerned authorities need to focus their attention on quarantine centres for all the positive cases so far are returnees from outside the State with the exception of the frontline worker (nurse) who was working at Churachandpur district hospital. If all the returnees are quarantined properly and monitored regularly, the State stands a fair chance of defeating the contagion, even if there is already cluster transmission among inmates of quarantine centres. But it would catastrophic, if cluster transmission gives way to community transmission.