Omicron fear before Goa’s tourism industry

With the new covid variant Omicron on the horizon, the government needs to take adequate steps to ensure a smooth tourism season, while protecting the locals at the same time

India in general and Goa particularly, have passed through adverse consequences of covid-19 over a year as a result of abrupt lockdowns and knee jerk reactions to the pandemic by both the governments at the centre and in the states of our country.

Although on the face of it as we seem to assume that the corona nightmare is now over, we are faced with challenges
with another variant of the virus termed as the ‘Omicron variant.’

Yes we have seen in Goa as in the rest of our country, the population suffering from the alpha, beta, gamma and the extremely virulent delta variant of the corona virus.

Being a microbiologist, researcher in the field of zoonotic diseases, I have seen and isolated from diseased fishes, pathogenic bacteria in fish, prawns and shellfish. These bacteria cause infections of the alimentary or digestive human system.
However, viruses are even hundred fold smaller than bacteria. The first viruses to be studied were the tobacco
mosaic viruses, which infected the leaves of the tobacco plant and caused huge damage to the cigarette industry and resulted in the loss of livelihoods.

Fortunately, the giant tobacco industry soon added hotel and tourism to the imperial tobacco manufacturing and thus the health hazard of the tobacco industry was suppressed and subdued by this basic transformation.

But today, after the pandemic, the managements of hotels have yet another giant problem to sort out. The lockdown over months of closure have had grave economic effects. Just as we brush our teeth to ward off bio foulers in our mouth, we have to clean pipes of air conditioners, too in a step-wise fashion.

Today, voluminous literature and research is available on the morphology, biochemistry epidemiology and other aspects of plant and animal viruses including human diseases. The progress made in the field of viral oncology and human immunogenic response is itself voluminous but I will only stick to my essay on the specific issue of Omicron
and its role on our society in Goa, which is an international tourist destination; and tourism being the backbone of our economy.

Goa was an agrarian society for centuries; from 1970 onwards we switched to include mining and thereafter tourism as a sector for livelihood of the people of Goa. Of course, I do not wish to digress and waylay my readers by explaining of the scams and loot by vested interest groups, which led to the stoppage of mining by the Supreme Court. Tourism too is a fragile tertiary sector contributing to the economic growth of societies across the globe.

As Goa has to survive economically, we have to have technically qualified scientists to be at the helm of affairs of administration of medical tourism exploitation. We cannot just stop and start charter tourism without our application of mind, as this would down scale our source of revenue and cause serious problems of inflation and
commercial stability of food and essential commodities into our State.

We cannot afford to shout that the tourism show must go on but do precious nothing to afford the tourists basic
amenities and services. It is here I must emphasise that haphazard growth of tourism and political blindness of our governments that led to unscientific lockdowns, with labour force across the country running helterskelter over thousands of kilometers, which caused both economic as well as social distress.

Thousands of workers in Goa’s casinos, hotels, and fisheries, commercial as well as factories and establishments are unorganised and porous to infectious diseases.

In Goa, incidences of Legionella have impacted our hotel industry, high end tourists living in luxury hotels have forced closures of Goan hotels by claiming huge compensations as the cooling pipes and air conditioning systems faced microbial biofouling and infectivity by virulent micro-organisms.

Only water engineers knowledgeable about sanitation and hygiene are aware of this serious malady adversely affecting the economy of the State of Goa.

Fortunately for Goa, we are a small state with adequate medical infrastructure built and stitched over four decades
of labour which could be suited to promote medical tourism in our State, as our beaches are captivating and our environment salubrious. We need to monitor migrants and informed tourists attracted to Goa and to place standard operating procedures for ushering in tourism very judiciously.

As Omicron is not as lethal as the delta variant of the virus, it does not kill the patient but the virus spreads fast, which could result in innate or acquired immunity to be developed amongst the locals, thus avoiding lockdowns. As of now we as citizens must keep our fingers crossed. We have a government which is totally insensitive to the problems adversely affecting the residents. The Captain of Ports, under the directions of Minister of Ports is building
a huge terminal building at the Panjim jetty. This jetty was once used to transport passengers from Goa and Bombay by the iconic passenger liner, ‘Konkan Sevak.’

Today, the Tourism Department and Corporation of Tourism is making the jetty a hot-spot for the sale of abusive substance and focus for the virus as thousands are entertained by the daily cruises conducted from the Panjim jetty, including the feeder boats carting gamblers from the jetty to the off-shore casinos.

The Christmas Season and New Year are upon us. If we do not want a repeat of the month of May, the Government should take utmost care and put strict measures in place so as to safeguard the locals and the tourists

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