‘Handling pandemic like law-and-order issue will derail containment efforts’

The government’s decision to hand over the bulk of COVID-19 containment activities, including technical tasks such as contact tracing which were so far being handled by the Health Department, to the police has invited flak from the medical fraternity and public health experts.

While the medical fraternity is aghast that the Health Department’s role in COVID-19 containment is being further reduced, public health experts point out that the handling of the pandemic like a law-and-order situation and in effect shifting the blame of disease transmission to the public can derail containment efforts.

“As it is, COVID-19 evokes a lot of fear, apprehension and stress amongst people, not to mention the stigma that comes along with it. Now that the government has taken the position that it is because of the laxity on the part of people that COVID-19 is spreading, the stigma is going to be very hard to shake off. Use of police force to do containment activities will drive people further away,” a public health expert said.

“Empower people”

“The police do have a role in ensuring that the rules in a containment zone are maintained. The government should be instilling more confidence in the people and empowering them to take part in the containment efforts,” he said.

The massive human rights violations that are taking place during the pandemic and its control are something that is seldom spoken about. The police taking over the containment efforts is likely to generate more complaints.

KGMOA demand

The medical fraternity has been very vocal in their protest. The Kerala Government Medical Officers’ Association (KGMOA) and the Indian Medical Association have demanded that the police be involved only in law enforcement related to quarantine and that technical issues such as contact tracing be left to the Health Department.

The Joint Council of State Service Organisations said here that the government’s decision would only demoralise health-care workers.