Coronavirus Pandemic

Goa: Trouble in paradise, as Covid wreaks havoc

Joydeep Sen Gupta/New Delhi
Filed on May 15, 2021
Paramilitary soldiers patrol along a street during a government-imposed lockdown as a preventive measure against coronavirus in Goa. Photo: AFP

The raging Covid-19 pandemic stokes debate about Goans vs outsiders.

Why is Goa, the picture postcard and the tiniest coastal Indian state, in the headlines for all the wrong reasons? Trouble in paradise?

The state, whose population is less than 60 per cent of Dubai at around two million (m), is in the throes of an unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic.

Goans said the second and the more lethal wave of the contagion started around Easter in early April.

And on May 1, Goa notched an unflattering milestone, a record 54 people died of Covid-19. Why has Covid-19 struck Goa with such a vengeance in its second and deadlier wave?

“The state has only one tertiary health care centre, the Goa Medical College & Hospital (GMC&H), which is overwhelmed under the circumstances, as the state has never experienced a health care emergency of these epic proportions. Our front line personnel, battling the pandemic, is overworked and suffering from the contagion fatigue,” said Dr. Siya Caro, a paediatrician and an alumnus of GMC&H.

She has an insight into the health care institution, which has been in the eye of the storm since the intervening night of last Monday (May 11) and Tuesday (May 12), when 26 Covid-19 patients choked to their deaths because of an acute lack of oxygen amid the blame game in the Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government.

Altogether, 13 more deaths were reported between 2 am and 6 am on Friday (May 14) at the GMC&H as oxygen supply pressure dipped. So far, 74 people have died at the hospital due to an oxygen supply shortage in a span of four days.

Vivek Menezes, a Goan and an author-columnist, weighs in on the ongoing health care crisis, as the stark facts speak for themselves.

He has made his point succinctly in an article that appeared in The Hindu, a reputed English daily, on Saturday (May 15), quoting Nigel Britto, a journalist, that exposed the faultlines between Goans and non-Goans like never before.

“Goans represent less than 50 per cent of the permanent population of our state, and the pandemic has greatly accelerated this imbalance. There is immense concern about an unstoppable tsunami of disaffected urbanites decamping en masse from other cities and living out newly-minted Goa dreams,” Britto was quoted in The Hindu article.

Britto has captured the nub of the debate, which may seem parochial from a distance, but embodies reality bites that only Goans, resident or otherwise, can relate to with consummate ease.

Perhaps, in a globalised world, few can quibble over such localised sentiment, but the fact of the matter is Britto is spot on when he said: “neo-Goans and other settlers who can and will just up and leave, if things get really bad. [I don’t] think, they’re actually concerned about Goa and Gaons”.

Every calamity opens up fresh raw wounds, and the pandemic has stoked basic human instincts.

Data showed that Goa has reported over 133,000 Covid-19 cases, which is more than China, the world’s most populous nation and the initial epicentre of the contagion, and 1,998 deaths. Also, the idyllic state’s viral outbreak-related fatalities are higher than in Tanzania, Vietnam, and Taiwan.

The extent of the casualties is staggering amid infrastructure woes and blame game in the tiny state’s administration, where the Minister for Health & Family Welfare Vishwajit Pratapsingh Rane and Chief Minister Pramod Sawant are at each other’s throat over the Covid-19 management, or the lack of it.

Asked about the seeming disagreement that’s playing out in full public display, Ravi Dhawan, the state health secretary, tried to play down the rift and parroted the response that he gave to the High Court of Bombay in Goa on Friday (May 14). He maintained that logistical problems, not a shortage, were responsible for a drop in oxygen pressure at the GMC&H for six consecutive nights, echoing the assertion of CM Sawant.

But GMC&H’s alumni are at odds with Dhawan.

“The infrastructure is stretched. The doctor and the Covid-19 patients’ ratio has gone for a toss. The health care professionals are doing their best under the challenging circumstances, but that’s good enough to prevent loss of human lives,” said a private general practitioner, who is also an alumnus of GMC&H, who spoke to Khaleej Times on condition of anonymity.

Dr. Karo concurred with her alma mater’s observations.

But neo-Goans like Ponnappa, a cartoonist, who relocated to Goa in 2019, are at peace with the state of affairs. He is unfazed by the all-round panic over the contagion that is striking with impunity.

“The people are chilled out. There is hardly any rural-urban divide. There is no urban stress. Life is beautiful in Goa,” said a reticent Ponnappa, who, like many neo-Goans are looking for an undiluted bliss like several creative and well-heeled people who are attracted to the sunshine state.

Goa’s pristine beaches, undulating meadows, gushing rivulets, lush, verdant landscape, breathtaking hillocks, and a lack of urban-rural divide is a massive draw for city slickers and superannuated people, who have an abiding love for the good life.

But be that as it may, Goa is caught between two contrasting universes, whose twain will never meet and is causing the ongoing health care crisis of epic proportions. Grief-stricken Goans have to contend with escapist folks of all hues, who continue to party like pre-pandemic times to disastrous consequences.

And look no further than Assagao, a quaint village of fewer than 4,000 people, which is an extension and heady mix of Delhi epitomised in boorishness and access to wanton cash.

But business, pleasure, and social restrictions can all go hand in hand, according to Satish Warrier, a media professional-turned-restaurateur, who had relocated to Assagao from Delhi, with his popular Hauz Kaus eatery Gunpowder. Over the years, Gunpowder has evolved into the chic village’s most prominent landmark.

Can Goa win over the Covid-19 challenge soon? Can Goa retain its cultural identity? Socially mobile Indians want to buy a slice of Goa at all costs as nativism falls by the wayside.

Goans are a global diaspora, whose footprints are visible from Portuguese Prime Minister António Luís Santos da Costa to British Attorney-General Sue-Ellen Cassiana "Suella" Braverman. So, can nativism succeed in the face of the diaspora’s success?

There are no easy answers to these loaded questions amid the pandemic-induced hard times.

Goans vs non-Goans is the large debate that needs to be discussed threadbare after the contagion crisis blows over. It’s an existential conundrum that has a universal feel to it.

But for now, it's all about making sure Goa lives up to its carefully cultivated image of the King of Good Times epitomised by the fugitive Indian businessman Vijay Mallya in his larger-than-life parties at his erstwhile Kingfisher Villa in the sylvan state.

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