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Views & Reviews

Lockdown or Community Policing?

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By EMN Updated: Jul 14, 2020 8:00 pm
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Reflections on the spread of the Covid-19 within Kohima

Covid-19 cases are rising steadily with no deaths reported. There has been no evidence of explosive spread or cases reported in clusters in the community. Positive cases amongst the community are in isolated incidences. There is a palpable panic reaction and apprehension amongst the public. Signs of Local transmission are present. Are we on the verge of community transmission?

Should there be lockdown? If so, should it be partial or total? Is lockdown helping us? These are the questions that come to mind when we are caught between the risks of getting infected by the virus and the risk of poverty due to loss of job and income. For some, it is a choice between death and poverty. The nationwide as well as local lockdown has certainly delayed the spread, given the fact that it is predominantly a human to human transmission, and thus buying us the time to plan and prepare our infrastructure to combat the challenges of the disease. But despite the lockdown, the disease continues to spread. The lockdown did not and could not impose total cessation of human activity and movement. It will not, and cannot and should not completely restrict movement of people and rightly so for apparent reason. It has to make allowances for movement of people for buying essential commodities, health care, personal emergencies, funerals, offices and other essential services. A lockdown therefore without the observance of the health advisory issued from time to time seems to derive no significant benefit. The subtle manner in which the virus seems to spread makes it even more important that all health and precautionary advices be strictly followed for all practical purposes irrespective of whether a lockdown is in place or not.

Potential Epicenters:

There are instances of churches reopening and its members congregating to conduct services. While restlessness developing even amongst the religious to gather is understandable it appears sensible and prudent that we do not allow religious emotional enthusiasm to cloud rational temperament to disregard the little knowledge that medical research has unearthed, thereby highly risking a community transmission. So many aspects of Covid -19 appears yet to be known and even the available information and advisories keep changing owing to the fact that medical science is  still so new to the virus. And as research and discoveries about the virus progressively continues, many protocols and advisories have changed accordingly. What appears to have remained a constant in the advisories is the need to wear proper masks, frequently wash hands/sanitise and to maintain social/physical distancing. While the lack of Covid-19 related fatality, good immunity and other similar justifications might give us a false sense of invincibility, we should not forget the fact that until now it is the young and the more healthy citizens who are being affected. Evidence elsewhere has shown that the worst could be encountered when the elderly, the infirm and the immune compromised get affected. With more evidence and consensus arriving at airborne transmission and even WHO admitting so, the risk of cross transmission does increase in a closed space such as a church gathering requiring attendance for few hours. The use of a thermal scanner by some churches for screening its congregation as a safety measure is devoid of the lesson we have just learnt from the instance of screening the returnees. At best, it is as good as to detect those with fever and at worst it would give a false sense of security amongst the asymptomatic positives who go undetected. We are aware that all the several hundreds of returnees who tested positive were all asymptomatic and without fever. Memory should not be so short as to fail us to recollect the “Patient no 31” in South Korea who attended church services and spread it to thousand others. The church, a religious center became the epicenter of Covid-19 in South Korea as also was in India with the Nizzamuddin Markaz fiasco in Delhi. Irrespective of whether a lockdown is in place or not, it appears only appropriate that religious and any other mass gatherings of any nature be restricted until such time the spread of the virus is conquered, and such a precautionary measure should not be perceived or misinterpreted as an attack on religious sentiment and practice.

The way forward.

While it is the prerogative of the government authorities to take into consideration all stakeholders and the expert advice of medical authorities to call for a lockdown, the crux of the control measures also seems to rest strongly on behavioural adaptation of citizens to conform to the precautionary measures such as properly wearing of mask, frequent hand washing/sanitisation and social distancing. The focus of this article therefore is not so much on the importance of lockdown as it is of the compliance to the health advisories that has been issued right from the beginning of the fight against Covid-19 and which can never be undermined. With the emerging evidence of airborne transmission of the disease, it is even more pertinent that mask wearing, hand washing/sanitisation and physical/social distancing be observed with utmost importance. It would only be relevant to mention the way a mask is supposed to work and protect us. A mask is supposed to work two ways. To protect the wearer from contracting the virus from the environment and also to prevent the wearer from shedding the virus and spreading it into the environment if infected. A mask is only good if it is worn to cover both the nostril and the mouth. It is effective only when it is worn the way it is intended. The purpose of a well worn mask is also entirely defeated if a person is allowed to spit around in public places. While masks may cause inconveniences to some initially, we have to learn to wear the way it is to be worn. Having to adjust with the discomfort of wearing a mask could very well be the difference between the slight resistance to breathing and no breathing at all six feet under. Such is the importance of the mask as regards to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is often observed among the Naga public that many are walking around in public places without properly wearing mask; either wrapping it around the chin, or covering only the mouth and exposing the nose, and some are even seen without any mask at all. While there have been several advisories to wear masks and it has even been made a punishable offence by some orders which is a good step, however there seems to be no authority enforcing the order and to check adherence or violation of the order, except in Mokokchung. It is understandable that in a mobile, fluidic movement of the people in public places, it is difficult for policemen to be everywhere to enforce the order, check or penalize defaulters. It is a tedious and enormous task requiring huge deployment of manpower. Aggressive sensitisation armed with aggressive enforcement appears to be the need of the hour.

It is in this light of the ‘importance of wearing mask’, ‘the need for the enforcement of the health advisories and respiratory etiquettes’ and the ‘practical difficulties for the police to be physically present to check on defaulters’ that the concept of Community Policing is hereby proposed under the prevailing partial lockdown for perusal and implementation if deemed fit.

Why Community Policing?

1. Those not wearing mask would not only contract the virus but also spread the virus. They pose a significant danger not only to themselves, but also the public.

2. Police and administrative authority cannot be physically present everywhere to monitor.

3. The Community can act best in the interest of its community.

How will implementation of Community Policing fit in?

1. Health advisory namely ‘wearing of mask in public places, shops, offices, public transport, etc’ and ‘prohibition of spitting in public places’ to be made compulsory by an official order and whose violation becomes a punishable offence by way of fines and others as deemed fit. Official empowerment of community authorities to implement, enforce, and monitor the observance of the health advisories and to realise penalty from offenders. In addition, they can also be entrusted to ensure hand washing and physical/social distancing wherever applicable though not necessarily with a penalty within their jurisdiction.

2. Powers and method of policing to be clearly defined to avoid overlap and clashes with other govt. authorities. Mobile photography before leveling charge for penalty wherever applicable would be desirable and serve as evidence of the offence in cases of disputes.

3. Fines can be imposed for offenders. Govt/municipal receipts to be issued for accountability and transparency. A percentage of the fines collected can be retained for community fund and to pay honorarium to its members/youths enforcing the order. The remaining percentage of penalty realised can be deposited to the government Covid-19 fund after audit, to be used for Covid-19 related expenses.

Who will ensure the policing?

1. Colony Panchayats to take over the community policing within their locality through youth volunteers.

2. Youth Volunteers of a bigger organisation to take over the National and State Highways, Markets, and roads that fall between two panchayat jurisdiction, or any other areas not covered by the Panchayats.

3. Coordination with the District Task Force at all times required. All disputes to be settled under the authority of the DTF.

4. All personnel involved in implementation should observe the same order they intend to implement and violators should be penalised in the same manner.

5. Restriction of crowding even amongst the volunteers by not allowing more than two in a specified place.

How will the Community Policing Benefit?

1. It will ensure and enforce the use of mask by any person in public places. This will help to break the chain of infection within the community. It will also check any intentional spread by unscrupulous people as witnessed in the Nizamuddin Markaz incident and subsequent viral videos depicting such people on a mission to spread the corona virus.

2. It will reduce the manpower and work demand of the Police, Municipal and administrative personnel.

3. It will earn revenue for the Government to be used for Covid related expenses.

4. It will provide temporary employment to the Community youth.

5. Fines will discourage offenders.

6. It will not only help prevent the spread of the disease by ensuring the use of mask, but will also ensure a cleaner and safer environment by the prevention of spitting in public places.

Concluding Note.

The Government exists for the people that forms the community, and the community forms the government that governs it. The constructive participation of both is inevitable to successfully overcome the Covid-19 crisis.

The proposal for community policing to enforce various health advisories- most importantly the wearing of mask, prevention of spitting in public places, hand washing/sanitisation and maintaining social distancing can be introduced on a trial basis and its efficacy studied. If a desirable result is achieved, the same may be replicated across the state.

Mrs. Kevinourheno Seyie
President, Angamimiapfü Mechü Krotho (AMK)
Mrs. Shürhivino Nakhro
Gen Secy, Angamimiapfü Mechü Krotho (AMK)

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By EMN Updated: Jul 14, 2020 8:00:38 pm