`The crowding at Wine Shops is a recipe for a major disaster’

Wine shops in different parts of India and the migrant population returning back home, could be the next danger spots, says G Asok Kumar,  Mission Director of the National Water Mission who headed the Central team to Surat in Gujarat. T S Sudhir of Filter Kaapi Live spoke to Asok Kumar. 

T S Sudhir : You think the reopening of the liquor shops is fraught with risk?

G Asok Kumar : You see the kind of queues outside these liquor outlets. In Delhi, Gurugram and several other states and cities, it is like a mela. Given that 80-85 per cent cases are asymptomatic, it is a recipe for a major disaster. You do not need to be in touch with a positive person for half an hour to contract the virus. Of course, states need revenue so they should switch to online sales and home delivery with precautions. 

Sudhir : The other danger you foresee from the migrant population returning home. Was the central team headed by you sent to Surat, mainly because it is home to a huge migrant population?

Asok : Surat has a migrant population of 12 lakh, mostly from Odisha, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. 70 per cent of them work in the textile mills and the rest in the construction industry. Those who work in the diamond trade are not from outside of Gujarat, they are mostly from other regions of Gujarat. 

Now typically, these workers are young, single males or newly married with their families back home and stay in small tenements. Since they work in shifts, about 6-8 of them are inside the room at any given point in time but now because of the lockdown, 12-15 of them are together inside a small space 24×7.

It is a risk because even if one of them contracts the virus, the spread will be very fast. More so because a majority of the cases being detected are asymptomatic. And now many of these migrants are returning home to their villages. 

Note : On 10 May, of the 33 Covid19 positive cases reported in Telangana, seven were migrants.

Sudhir : You also have your concerns about the cooked food that is being provided to most of these migrant workers who are in Surat. 

Asok : Yes. Roughly 4-5 lakh of these workers are being provided cooked food everyday. The others are being given dry rations.

Though effort is made to ensure social distancing in the queue to collect their food, they exit their houses and colony together in a group. Also it is tough to maintain that the food chain – from procuring vegetables to cooking to delivery – is all completely protected. It is better that dry rations are provided to everyone, they can cook and that will also keep them engaged. 

Sudhir : Between 2006-08, when you headed the Andhra Pradesh’s initiative against HIV-AIDS, you ran a campaign to destigmatise and fight against discrimination. Do you think a similar approach is needed with Covid-19 as well?

Asok : Before the campaign in 2006, we had tested about 5 lakh people. Over the next two years, we tested 24 lakh people. We had the then CM of Andhra Pradesh, YS Rajasekhara Reddy, Assembly Speaker Suresh Reddy testing for HIV-AIDS, thereby breaking the stigma against testing. It helped us track the HIV+ cases aggressively. 

In Covid19, there is stigma as well but there are differences. In HIV-AIDS, it was to do with character, here it is about infections. We need to spread the message that a Covid positive person need not be thrown out of the apartments or discriminated against. We need a responsible behaviour here as well, of a different kind. 

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