Goa to reopen tourism sector: CM Pramod Sawant

Goa to reopen tourism sector CM Pramod Sawant

Panaji, June 2 (IANS) Forty-seven-year-old Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant was speaker of the Assembly when due to the untimely death of Manohar Parrikar, he replaced him. An Ayurveda medical practitioner, he deals with a wide array of subjects in this extensive interview with IANS’s Navneet Mishra. Goa has been relatively calm in the middle of the raging health epidemic, CM Sawant explains why…

Here are excerpts from the interview.

Q: How do you see the fight against Covid-19 under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi? Has lockdown helped control the spread of the virus?

A: As you all know, Covid-19 was an unknown virus. It was a super spreader and soon it was all over the world, affecting a large number of people in almost every country. The step taken to lockdown the country was a step in the right direction and the whole world is praising the efforts of the Prime Minister in the fight against the Pandemic.

The Union Government took proactive measures to control the situation by invoking the Disaster Management Act. Time to time, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued guidelines as per the prevailing situation, which has been strictly followed by the State of Goa.

The Prime Minister personally monitored the situation through various platforms. He has been constantly interacting with the Chief Ministers of all States. Considering the situation in the world, I should say India is in a better position now as far as handling of Covid-19 is concerned.

At the time this virus surfaced, the country was not well prepared to either test or combat it, but things have changed now. Lockdown helped create awareness, both in terms of the knowledge and behaviour of the virus and the way to handle this effectively. Lockdown has helped create suitable testing and hospital related infrastructure. This was possible because of the initiatives of the Union Government, which implemented the lockdown at a very early stage. When we talk about our State, the Goa Government has also taken various measures in line with the norms laid down by the centre to tackle this pandemic.

Q: In spite of being a neighbour of Maharashtra where cases are skyrocketing, Goa has been able to contain the spread of the virus. Tell us about the Goa model.

A: Sadly, our neighboring states have been impacted severely by the virus. I would like to appreciate the efforts of our State authorities for adopting stringent measures in the fight against the virus. Goa acted speedily to overcome the situation. It is perhaps the only state to start a war room since the first day of the Lockdown, from which the situation is monitored 24X7 and decisions are taken on a priority basis. Daily meetings are held in the war room, chaired by the Chief Secretary, and I too have been participating in it from time to time.

My Government has succeeded in setting up the required infrastructure for testing. There was no testing facility in the State till the Lockdown. We created a dedicated COVID Hospital and provided the best treatment to COVID patients. It gives me great satisfaction that the Chief Minister of Maharashtra Uddhav Thackrey has taken cognizance of the Goa model of containing coronavirus and has asked his officials to implement this model at district levels. I am happy.

Q: After becoming the first state in India free from coronavirus, how come your state again saw a spike in cases?

A: Our aim is to maintain the status of COVID free State, though we know it’s a herculean task. After the recovery of the first 7 cases and became Covid free, the State has been vigilant and has adopted the protocol to test every incoming person to the State.

This has helped us in detecting the cases as soon as they enter the border, and all subsequent cases till date are those who tested positive when they entered Goa. We are following the guidelines issued by the MHA from time to time, though at times our measures are stricter than the MHA norms. People of Goa have given us an overwhelming response by following all health, sanitation as well as social distancing norms, and have respected the various measures taken by the State in compliance to the MHA instructions.

Now, our protocol is that every individual who enters Goa has to produce a COVID negative certificate issued within 48 hours prior to the date of arrival by a lab authorized by the ICMR or to go for a COVID-19 test while entering. Till Mar 29, 2020, Goa did not have its own testing facility and all samples were being sent to Mumbai or Pune, either by Commercial flights or by special Naval flights. Goa has since ramped up its testing infrastructure and now has 7 fully functional labs in its various health centers.

We want to be over-prepared to handle the crisis. Also, a house-to-house survey has been done in the State, to identify Influenza-like illnesses, and all such cases are now being tested to rule out the possibility of Covid-19. Yes, Goa was freed from positive cases for a considerable period, now again we have positive cases, who are recovering.

Once the interstate movement commenced, people from other states, most of them who are residents of Goa, and were stranded in other parts of the country, started coming back home. All of the recent positive cases have been identified at the point of entry to the State. Hence, the important thing here is that community transmission has been prevented in the State.

Q: What is the government doing to revive the tourism industry in the state, which is considered the backbone of Goa economy?

A: Presently, the whole world is shocked as far as the coronavirus pandemic is concerned. Unlike now, earlier tsunamis, earthquakes, catastrophic floods or wars were limited to certain parts of the world. Therefore, those who were in distress or in need used to get help from other countries or people elsewhere, but this time all countries are adversely affected and perhaps going through an economic crisis, and tourism does become the first casualty in such situations. However, I am confident that as Goa has developed a positive image in handling this pandemic, tourism will pick up again and may soon surpass the past. All stakeholders of the tourism industry will work together with the Government towards this goal.

Q: If tourism sector is opened, Goa will witness an influx of foreign tourists which may lead to spike in cases. How will you tackle this?

A: Our government will take utmost care on every front to tackle the menace of coronavirus while opening up the economy in a staggered manner. However, I am confident that a cure and a vaccine are very close and Covid-19 will soon be history, and very soon the activities in the world will become normal. Also, as you all know, Goa is known for its natural beauty and hospitality. Tourism and mining are the mainstay of Goa’s economy. We have set up an Economic Revival Committee which has already given its report for revival of every sector, even tourism. We are also awaiting the Standard Operating Procedures of MHA and the Union Ministry of Tourism for kick starting tourism industry. We would also be framing the our own SOPs on the basis of central guidelines.

Q: Film actor Pooja Bedi recently visited Goa and made videos of quarantine centres which she claimed were dirty. What do you have to say?

A: I respect everybody’s views. You have to understand that we provide the same facilities to all, there is no distinction. And I suppose, she may be used to a higher level of comfort. We have to understand one thing that we are going through a crisis situation. What is happening around us at present may not be to our individual liking or comfort levels but our Govt is putting in best efforts to ensure that Goans are kept safe from COVID19.

Q: Tell us about the condition of health facilities, quarantine centres, testing, which are necessary to fight Covid-19.

A: Apart from the existence of the Goa Medical College and its expertise, the ESI Hospital in Margao has been designated as a dedicated COVID Hospital with a bed apacity of 200, with enough oxygen and ventilator support. Our medical team is extremely competent and alert and is fully equipped to handle any kind of crisis arising due to this pandemic. Adequate testing infrastructure in the State has been set up, and is continuously being scaled up.

Q: Many foreign tourists were stranded in Goa due to the lockdown. How many of them were sent back and are there tourists still stranded in Goa?

A: This was another proactive initiative of the State Government. We in Goa believe in “Atithi Devo Bhavah”. Accordingly, a senior IAS officer was appointed as the Nodal Officer for this operation. The administration did a splendid job in ensuring that all the stranded foreign tourists were well looked after during the lockdown, and they were assisted for return to their homes without any hassles. As you all know, Goa is known for its peace and hospitality world over. And during this ongoing nationwide lockdown period, the Government of Goa has definitely created a soft corner in the minds of residents of foreign countries who were with us during the lockdown.

The Government has taken special efforts to show to the world, why Goa is known for hospitality. It’s because of State Government initiatives that more than 8,000 stranded foreign tourists have been able to reach home safely, to more than 35 countries. Various embassies have expressed their gratitude to the Government of Goa through various channels and hoped fruitful cooperation in years to come.

Q: Many states have demanded special package to revive the economy. Have you also sought any assistance from the Centre?

A: The Modi Govt has introduced some bold economic reforms to counter the negative impacts of COVID-19. The Aatmanirbhar Bharat Package – special financial package of Rs 20 Lakh crore caters to each and every sector. The Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package caters to the poor and marginalized section of the society. With such a massive rollout of schemes for every sector, the concerns of the State have been addressed to a large extent. The Modi Govt has always been receptive to Goa’s needs and I am confident we will also get the desired support. We have to ensure that while we fight COVID-19, economic activities are restored. As the PM said, we need ‘Jaan’ and ‘Jahan’, i.e. we need to protect people’s lives and livelihood. I am confident that, under the able leadership and guidance of Modi Ji we will fight this pandemic and win this war.