KCR should un­lock newer strate­gies to fight C-virus

The Asian Age - - Edit -

On March 11, 2020, Te­lan­gana chief min­is­ter and TRS pres­i­dent K. Chan­drasekhar Rao dis­missed the spec­tre of coro­n­avirus as “not a big threat” and pre­scribed Parac­eta­mol as the only med­i­ca­tion for Covid-19. When the novel coro­n­avirus pan­demic was in­fect­ing mil­lions around the world and roil­ing the stock mar­kets, Mr Rao felt there was no need to “press the panic but­ton” just yet.

When a techie con­tracted the deadly in­fec­tion, the sec­ond case to have been re­ported in Hy­der­abad in early March, the chief min­is­ter called the techie a “san­nasi daridrudu” (use­less fel­low) for spread­ing the virus. The techie had a travel his­tory to Italy. And the blame game kicked off.

Des­per­ate times call for des­per­ate mea­sures. In times of na­tional cri­sis, peo­ple look to their politician­s for lead­er­ship and di­rec­tion. The KCR ad­min­is­tra­tion had failed to pre­pare for the prob­a­bil­ity that Te­lan­gana would face a ma­jor health chal­lenge.

De­spite warn­ings early on, the Te­lan­gana gov­ern­ment’s ap­proach had been way too ca­sual. “Light theesko”, as they say in Tel­ugu land. The ca­sual ap­proach was re­flected in KCR’s per­sonal be­liefs and views on corona. Af­ter ped­dling the Parac­eta­mol pre­scrip­tion, Mr Rao stated that the virus can­not sur­vive in tem­per­a­tures above 22 de­grees Cel­sius.

On March 16, the state ad­min­is­tra­tion was jolted out of its stu­por af­ter at least 10 In­done­sians who at­tended the Tab­lighi Ja­maat con­gre­ga­tion in Delhi’s Niza­mud­din Markaz tested pos­i­tive. The In­done­sians roamed freely in Karim­na­gar for more than a week, while the state ad­min­is­tra­tion was caught nap­ping. Two Thai na­tion­als tested pos­i­tive for Covid-19 in the days fol­low­ing March 16. This gave the rul­ing dis­pen­sa­tion am­ple ammo to shift the blame on Tab­lighis for the spread of the virus in the state. For nearly two months, al­most every sin­gle case was at­trib­uted to the Tab­lighis. While there could be some truth that the Tab­lighis showed cal­lous­ness, a big­ger part of the blame lies with the gov­ern­ment that didn’t do enough test­ing to con­tain the spread of the virus. The KCR gov­ern­ment was put on the back foot for the con­tin­u­ous low test­ing. For sev­eral days, the gov­ern­ment did not even re­lease the test­ing data.

On March 23, KCR de­clared com­plete lock­down (Lock­down 1.0) in line with the cen­tral gov­ern­ment’s re­quire­ment. A huge en­ter­tainer, he even threat­ened shoot-at-sight to those who failed to com­ply with lock­down reg­u­la­tions. Be­tween March 23-27, when the state’s Covid tally climbed to 59. KCR’s me­dia brief­ings had large doses of hu­mour, of­ten lack­ing sci­en­tific base. “Rich protein food will boost im­mune sys­tems and thereby keep corona at bay,” he had pre­scribed. This too lacked sci­en­tific ba­sis.

KCR’s “chicken and egg” the­ory had a lot to do with giv­ing a boost to the poul­try in­dus­try se­verely hit by Covid-19. “Have or­anges, sweet lime and pomegranat­es. These are vi­ta­m­in­packed fruits, good in these days of coro­n­avirus,” Mr Rao ad­vised. One won­ders why a chief min­is­ter would don the hat of a nu­tri­tion­ist when he already has a lot on his plate.

From Lock­down 1.0, to 4.0, KCR had ut­tered a strik­ing num­ber of false claims about the coro­n­avirus pan­demic. He had claimed that the state med­i­cal ad­min­is­tra­tion was fully equipped to han­dle even one lakh Covid-19 pa­tients and that a 1,500 bed new hos­pi­tal was be­ing built in record time. Fur­ther, KCR had claimed there was ad­e­quate stock­pile of PPEs, N95 masks, gloves and other med­i­cal gear for the front­line war­riors even as an in­creas­ing num­ber of doc­tors, nurses, paramed­i­cal staff, police per­son­nel and health work­ers con­tracted the virus. The Te­lan­gana high court had pulled up the KCR gov­ern­ment over acute short­age of PPE, N95 masks and other med­i­cal gear. “How could the front­line war­riors con­tract the virus if the gov­ern­ment sup­plied med­i­cal equip­ment to com­bat the pan­demic,” won­dered the court.

In a video-con­fer­ence with Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, KCR had claimed that a vaccine for Covid-19 can be ex­pected by ei­ther July or Au­gust as Shan­tha Biotech was work­ing to­wards this. “We’re very close to a vaccine,” he de­clared. At a me­dia brief­ing, the CM stated that Shan­tha Biotech chair­man Vara­prasad Reddy met him to in­form that the vaccine will be ready by July, a state­ment ve­he­mently de­nied by Mr Reddy.

On April 27, Mr Rao claimed Te­lan­gana will be a corona-free state even as the state tally crossed the 1,000 mark. He had re­as­sured the pub­lic that there was noth­ing to worry about, that all was un­der con­trol and that the num­ber of those infected would be brought down to zero.

In the month that fol­lowed, things went tremen­dously out of con­trol. The chief min­is­ter be­came the blamer-inchief. He blamed ev­ery­one, pro­ject­ing his fail­ures on any­one but him­self or his ad­min­is­tra­tion. KCR and his crack team tried to de­fend the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ap­proach and con­vince peo­ple that the cri­sis shouldn’t worry them. The daily press brief­ings were pub­lic re­la­tions ex­er­cises, pro­pa­ganda ses­sions to cover up the gov­ern­ment’s fail­ures. The rul­ing TRS as­signed blame to the Tab­lighi Ja­maat, and to the Naren­dra Modi gov­ern­ment for not pro­vid­ing proper fa­cil­i­ties and fi­nan­cial aid (oops, he­li­copter money) and the jour­nal­ists for their “crooked minds” spread­ing “fake news” virus. As the Covid-19 tally con­tin­ued to climb, a des­per­ate KCR even wished that re­porters writ­ing “neg­a­tive news” be infected with corona. “You should get coro­n­avirus,” he cursed the jour­nal­ists who were merely do­ing their jobs risk­ing their own lives. When a jour­nal­ist asked whether the gov­ern­ment will al­low liquor sales, KCR took a jibe at him. “This is a silly ques­tion. I am sorry to say, this is a silly ques­tion,” he fumed.

While gyms re­mained closed, the TRS gov­ern­ment, rul­ing in a hurry to fill its cof­fers, had allowed al­co­hol to flow in the state, queues snaked sev­eral liquor stores in the state as tip­plers longed to quench their thirst. Drink­ing al­co­hol will weaken the im­mu­nity sys­tem and can make the coro­n­avirus worse, the WHO had warned. Who cares? Andhra Pradesh too had allowed liquor sales. The wheel of the econ­omy should be run­ning, silly. Liquor money is more im­por­tant than pub­lic health. “No mask, no liquor,” KCR had said.

Be­tween March 28 and May 28, Te­lan­gana saw 70 Covid-19 deaths. In the fol­low­ing two weeks, from 27 May un­til June 9, the num­ber of deaths more than dou­bled to 140. To­tal fa­tal­i­ties (as on date) has neared 250. The state gov­ern­ment is head­ing to­wards Lock­down 5.0 from Un­lock 1.0. One can­not pre­dict whether this is clos­ing the gates of the sta­ble af­ter the horses have bolted, but if it’s done, a strictly en­forced lock­down sup­ple­mented by ramped up test­ing could halt the down­hill Covid slide. What is needed is the po­lit­i­cal will to take on the chal­lenge and un­lock newer strate­gies to com­bat Covid-19. It is not as if we were blind­sided by the pan­demic — the March 24 an­nounce­ment of a na­tion­wide lock­down helped us gear up and brace our­selves for what was to come. What we did was frit­ter away three pre­cious months.

Reshmi A.R.

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