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Where the Government Failed and Passed in Its Covid-19 Exam

Friday, Sep 25, 2020 11:15 [IST]

Last Update: Friday, Sep 25, 2020 05:39 [IST]

Where the Government Failed and Passed in Its Covid-19 Exam

1st Semester Report Card

JIWAN RAI
Sikkim enjoyed a rare national spotlight for its zero Covid-19 status until May 23 this year when the first case was detected. Fleeting as it might have been, Sikkim’s Covid-19 story was worthy of a ‘hurried mention’ in the national media. We watched our Chief Minister, PS Tamang and others giving interviews to various TV channels with pride. The joy and pride soon passed, giving way to fear, frustration and even mourning. In four months, Covid-19 positive cases have crossed 2500. And now the state is all set to open its borders for interstate transportation. It would be worthwhile to revisit the six months of our Covid-19 battle for a rapid evaluation. Here are three major areas where the state government did well.
Implementing a complete ban on the entry of domestic tourists on 16 March by the state government was the smartest of all moves. Many of us applauded the government, terming it a ‘partial decision’.  I feel ashamed to quote myself as though my opinions mattered but I couldn’t help rummaging back through my Facebook timelines. At that time, I had an inkling of doubt, thinking that the government was too late. I had written, “The state administration, in a delayed reaction to the spread of the coronavirus threat and rising public frustration and fear, announced a partial lockdown. I hope it is not too little too late.” I was wrong. It was not too late. PM Modi announced a nation-wide complete lockdown a week later - Sikkim was leading the way.
Secondly, we can see that the priority of the government was spot on. Chief Minister Goley said that the lives and health of the people of Sikkim come above all else. This was a time for a cardinal choice between economy and life. Sikkim chose life.
The third area of exemplary performance was the way contract tracing was conducted initially after positive cases were detected. Every single person was tracked down and brought under quarantine.
The saying – ‘well begun is half done’ is not a propositional statement. It is merely a cheer leader’s shout. Sikkim’s good beginning probably instilled unnecessary overconfidence in us. Very soon, lapses began to increase both in number and proportion.  Now let me talk about three areas where the government’s performance was not up to scratch.
Failure to facilitate a composite Sikkimese force against Covid-19 was unfortunate. What the BJP government did at the centre, SKM did in the state.  They isolated the opposition parties. The government should have brought all the political parties on board. The government’s energy was diverted to answering oppositional criticism and questions resulting in an overall distracted focus on the real enemy - namely Covid-19. An all-party approach could have benefited Sikkim by way of collective wisdom. This was not a time for politicking – it was a time for a united, determined battle of life and death.
The second biggest failure was the administrative failures at various levels. The premature celebration and over-confidence during the zero Covid-19 days were symptoms of systemic lapses. The government had made all the right decisions at the right time. However, what went unnoticed by the governmental radar was the utter negligence on the part of a few. The Melli in-in-out-out fiasco, the Rongli GREF camp debacle and the IT department’s disaster will remain as indelible stains on the administration for years to come.
To me, personally, the third major lapse was the delay in fashioning Sikkim specific Covid-19 protocols. We have depended on centrally designed protocols and guidelines for far too long. They are highly significant ones but tailoring certain guidelines to meet our local nuanced situation is equally important. Some notifications released by the Sikkim government seem emotionally driven and devoid of scientific rationale.
Finally, I will always maintain that our initial success zero covid-19 status was overhyped. We were merely enjoying the temporary bliss of locational advantage. Along with us, many Northeastern states like Nagaland, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh had zero Covid-19 cases for quite some time. Then they had one positive case for a long time until their numbers peaked gradually. In our euphoria, we ignored the germ theory to our own peril.
Now Sikkim is on the verge of making the cardinal decision to start a massive unlocking process. The decision itself is not uncalled for as we cannot remain isolated endlessly. The biggest question, however, is how prepared, alert, smart and capable the state administrative will be to execute this momentous decision. The advanced world has resumed normal activities. I was amazed to read how Canada is leading the way. Their preparation is massively grand. Their administration is highly sensitive and responsive. Their manpower is ably trained. Their public is adequately educated and informed. What about ours?

“We can see that the priority of the government was spot on. Chief Minister Goley said that the lives and health of the people of Sikkim come above all else. This was a time for a cardinal choice between economy and life. Sikkim chose life.”
jiwanr@gmail.com

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi