Community transmission calls for new strategy

There is no denying that something went seriously wrong or there were disastrous lapses in the way the State of Manipur tackles the COVID-19 pandemic. Whereas the whole country has been slowly unlocking or opening up after months of lockdown, Manipur has been passing through another phase of suffocating lockdown. This is understandable given the incessant surge in the positive cases across the State with Imphal West district accounting for lion’s share since the last two/three weeks. Since July 29 when the State witnessed its first COVID-19 fatality, the death toll has been rising steadily. So far, 22 people had lost their lives due to COVID-19 even though most of them had co-morbid health conditions. If we look back at the trajectory of COVID-19 transmission in the State, we can definitely divide the trajectory into three distinct but closely connected phases. In the first phase, COVID-19 infections were limited to only those people who came back from outside the State. It was only a small fraction of the returnees who were tested positive. Undoubtedly, it was during this first phase that the contagion could have been contained through proper and strict application of safety and precautionary measures. But the State sadly missed this opportunity. The second phase saw cluster transmission of the virus with group or cluster infections reported from different parts of the State including Jiribam and Thoubal. It was during the second phase that the State witnessed geometrical spurt in COVID-19 positive cases. Still the situation was not manageable if only the authorities and of course, the public acted with more responsibility.  Now the worst scenario is before us as the cluster transmission has given way to community transmission. The State expert committee on COVID-19 has already admitted that there is first phase of community transmission in the State.
The three phases of COVID-19 trajectory witnessed in the State have different characteristics, basically in the modes of transmission. But the Government’s response to all the three phases seems to be quite uniform and similar. From the very beginning, the Government’s call has been lockdown, curfew, adherence to SOP and guidelines. One cannot simply adopt a common method in tackling the contagion in its different stages of transmission. The method applied during the first phase characterised by imported cases cannot be applied to the second phase or cluster transmission. Likewise, any method adopted to contain cluster transmission cannot be replicated during the third phase or community transmission. The Government needs to review and devise new strategy to tackle the pandemic based on its changing mode of transmission. The ever soaring positive cases are an unmistakable indication that lockdown or curfew is not enough. As we pointed out earlier lockdown or curfew cannot go on forever. It is almost five months that the people have been reeling under the suffocating lockdown and curfew. All these days, people have been enduring untold misery in the hope of containing the contagion. But all the suffering for such a long period is paying little dividend as there is no sign yet of the COVID-19 graph becoming flat. On the contrary, the graph is rising vertically in a much faster pace.  Of course, the fight against COVID-19 must continue but the State should not overlook the crippling impacts of the protracted lockdown on all aspects of life. Now the Ministry of Home Affairs has already written to Chief Secretaries of all States that there should not be any restriction on inter-State and intra-State movement of people and cargo. Given these new developments and the failure or ineffectiveness of lockdown and curfew in containing the spread of COVID-19, the State Government needs to come up with a new strategy which would be more effective in dealing with the pandemic but less suffocating to the masses.